Witt: America’s problems aren’t new

On Sept. 24, 1924, Georgia Gov. Clifford Walker, speaking before a Ku Klux Klan assembly said, “I would build a wall of steel, a wall as high as Heaven, against the admission of a single one of those Southern Europeans who never thought the thoughts or spoke the language of a democracy in their lives.”

Lawrence Dennis was a diplomat, consultant and author who advocated fascism in America following the Great Depression.

In 1932, he wrote, “We have perfected techniques in propaganda and press and radio control which should make the United States the easiest country in the world to indoctrinate with any set of ideas, and to control for any physically possible ends.”

And, “.. undoubtedly the easiest way to unite and animate large numbers in political association for action is to exploit the dynamic forces of hatred and fear.”

In the 1950s, Joseph McCarthy, a senator from Wisconsin, took advantage of the fear of rising communism and stoked that fear to raise his familiarity to the American people, most often by using unproven and patently false claims about the number of ‘card-carrying’ Communists working in the federal government.

The combination of comments from attorney Joseph Welch and Edward R. Murrow were instrumental in hastening the downfall of the demagogue.

Welch: “You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”

Edward R. Murrow, who, in his broadcast on CBS of “See It Now” on March 9, 1954 said, “The actions of the junior Senator from Wisconsin (McCarthy) have caused alarm and dismay among our allies abroad, and given considerable comfort to our enemies.”

Later, Arthur Schlesinger Jr. inquired, “What injustices are we perpetuating even now that will one day face the harshest of verdicts by those who come after us?”

Then there are comments from President Reagan, oft-quoted, and venerated by virtually all current Republicans, when he talked about his shining ‘city upon a hill’ in his farewell address in February 1989: “And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors, and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.”

And how are presidents to be treated by the general public?

Most Americans agree the office deserves respect, regardless of any quirks of the person occupying it.

Teddy Roosevelt was direct about this question.

“To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile but is morally treasonable to the American public,” he said.

James Bryce (1838-1922) was a British academic, jurist, historian and liberal politician.

He wrote, “A bold President who knew himself to be supported by a majority of the country, might be tempted to override the law and deprive the minority of the protection which the law affords it. He might be a tyrant, not against the masses, but with the masses.”

So, what is the significance of these little historical vignettes?

They illustrate problems facing the American people are seldom new; they have existed — in some form — almost since the birth of the nation. They recur with some regularity across the generations and that they are always just awaiting the right circumstances to manifest themselves again absent the vigilance of an educated, informed public.

It is easy to associate these examples to much of what is currently happening in America.

Chuck Witt is a retired architect and a lifelong resident of Winchester. He can be reached at chuck740@bellsouth.net.