Island Life Going Forward

Island Life

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I think of all the common, everyday phrases and tropes that pass through modern daily discourse,  I truly detest the two words that form the title here the most. It is of course, also the order that those words are presented in that is critical. Forward going might imply forward thinking, which would be fine with me. But going forward is simply a redundancy- one goes forward whether one proclaims it that way or not. And it is a proclamation that usually proceeds whatever it is that one is talking about at the time. One can unplug a clock , or superglue its hands (old school) to its face and the sun will still set and rise again tomorrow, not yesterday. So on we go, forward- you don’t have to say it, or turn it into something that needs stating, or repeating, and act like you’re actually doing something.

There is the whole ‘moving forward’ thing, which could be placed in the same box as moving on. Both of those are actions that require some effort. You can sit in a chair and watch the minutes tick away while the shadows creep across the floor and up the wall whilst not moving an inch from where you are settled. Moving on requires that you at least get up and go somewhere, even if it’s going to the fridge for another beer, in which case you are both moving on to another place and another state of mind. It has been said that we need to move on from the place we’ve been stuck in for the last four years, but we have to be sure that what we are moving on from is not left behind like so much dust under the rug because that dust will still be there when we get back from wherever it is that we are wandering off to.

As an illustration of the going versus moving forward thing, one needs to look no further than the letters to the editor section of the other newspapers on the Island. By this, I don’t just mean the other paper of this present now, but also, one can go to the library right here in town and request a gander at what they have on record for the Island News Record, the predecessor to the Beachcomber. It’s been a couple years since I’ve done this so I don’t know if they’ve upgraded the technology- when I looked back into the printed past here a short while ago it was by tediously going through the microfiche cards and guessing what the time window where the information I was looking for might be. This is trouble for me on two counts. The first is that I am an incredibly slow reader, so the going was slow. The second problem was that, at least for me, when you start looking into the past, everything is fascinating. One starts off with all the good intentions to just skim the headlines and move ahead to the next page. But then, that cat-, and time-, killing thing called curiosity creeps in, and the next thing you know you’re halfway through that article that caught your eye but has absolutely nothing to do with the reason you sat down there in the first place.

One of the places I always got stuck was in the letters section. This wasn’t horrible, since most of the letters were short and easy to get through. The thing that stuck out most for me here was that many of the writers voicing opinions back then could very well have passed for some of the writers writing in these days. Many of the problems that existed for the ferries back then still persist today. Some voices back then spoke up to support Island businesses, encouraging others to shop here before going over town. There were complaints about other people’s animals and how some people just drive too fast out here. It would seem that in many of these cases, things have gone forward without moving forward, in large part because the culture did not change, nor did basic human nature.

Regarding our current political situation, I thought it would be interesting to see what the Hollywood record had to say about politics, and so I sought out a copy of ‘Mr. Smith goes to Washington’, which I will admit to having never seen before. I was surprised to find that it came out in 1939, the same year that ‘Gone With the Wind’ and ‘Wizard of Oz’ made their cinematic entrances. GWTW ran away with things that year grossing almost six times what Mr. Smith brought in at $18 and $3.5 million respectively, and they were one and two on the box office list with the Wizard coming in at number five. But that’s not why we came or went here. What was truly astounding about my visit with Mr. Capra and Mr. Stewart was the portrayal of the Senate from back in 1939. There were the trumped up and untrue charges against Mr. Smith in order to cover the graft of others, and the media frenzy that followed with more baseless charges of the “alternative facts” variety.  There was even the entire scene that was a carbon copy, or prototype of, depending on which direction in time one is traveling, the Senate impeachment “jurors” in the recent trial where many in the audience were not paying any attention to either the house managers in presenting their case, or Mr. Smith in his self-defense.

In going further backward in an effort to find evidence of moving forward, or not, we find ourselves in the House of Representatives this time, with the relative time reference being March 20, 1866. The reason why we are in this here and now is because it was the day that representative Hulburd from New York was attempting to read a bit of fiction into the record in order to get back at Horace Greeley for something he had written in his paper, the New York Tribune. Greeley had made a point of mocking Mr. Hulburd regarding a bill intended to settle the issue of government paying out coin redemption for paper money.  Greeley had made disparaging comments about Hulburd’s grasp of economics, and in order to get revenge and retribution, Mr. Hulburd wanted a fictional account of Greeley’s ride in a stagecoach from Genoa, Nevada to Placerville, California read into the congressional record, which at the time was known as the Congressional Globe. This account was written by one Artemus Ward, a comedic author of some reknown. It described Greeley looking ridiculous as he supposedly bounced all around the back of the coach as he implored the driver to go faster so he would get to his speaking engagement that night. There was debate about putting a fiction into the record and thereby debasing the integrity of the House at the time, but it was read in anyway. I do not know that this was a precedent in terms of the genesis of legitimizing fake news, but it does exist in the record to this day.

Some say that this mockery of Greeley, which was still alive and well when he ran for president against Ulysses S. Grant in 1872, was a reason for his losing to Grant. Others claim that Greeley’s hand in freeing Jefferson Davis from prison, because he felt that his imprisonment was dividing the country, had a much greater affect on Greeley’s defeat at the polls. Greeley had perhaps been the single greatest advocate of the Emancipation Proclamation, and had badgered Lincoln ceaselessly about his signing it. It is hard to say if Davis’s being given a pass after only two years in prison actually led to any national healing as it was intended, and to speculate as to whether Greeley would have done things differently than Grant if he had been elected is somewhat pointless, as Greeley passed away not long after the election- some say it was a cascading of health events possibly exacerbated by his extreme disappointment at losing. It is difficult to say whether or not Greeley would have issued in a more enlightened view of Civil Rights since he was also known to have made disparaging comments about the inferiority of Black peoples, along with expressing a disdain for Native Americans. While I was on my journey of discovery about Greeley a few years back, the day I came to my home town to visit Greeley’s statue there, a high school senior was proposing a name change for Horace Greeley High School because of his racists comments.

And now, just last night on the news I see there is talk of tearing down the statue of George Washington at the U., and talk as well about a movement to rename the state of Washington itself because of the extent of our first president’s slave holdings. And so, as we look back and then move forward along the timeline, we move past various mileposts that were supposedly allowing us to move beyond our slave owning, racist past. There was the first Black President just a few years back, along with the recent election of the first female Black Vice President that seemed to indicate some progress in that regard. But there was that disturbance in the force, in between, that pointed emphatically at the reality that while it seemed we had been going forward all along, we had not really been moving forward at all. I don’t know that we were moving backward- it seems that in spite all the implied progress as a nation, we seemed to have gone nowhere at all, thanks to the now disgraced former president giving voice and validity to all that bad stuff that we thought we had moved by. In some ways that is a good thing- the exposing of the bias and hatred in the system that had never really left. What we need to do now is not go forward or move on until it is dealt with and purged from the system. The overt white supremacist, racist leanings of the disgraced former president could have in part been remedied by a Senate conviction for his second impeachment. In a sense, because he wasn’t held accountable we are being pushed now into just going forward. I am not sure what the remedy is for that. I don’t know what it will take to get some justice around here. I just don’t know. It is wrong that in a democracy, no matter what we do it seems out of our hands.