Academy Award-winning actor Tom Hanks was just honored with the National Archives Foundation Records of Achievement award. During the presentation event, he commented on the current state of American politics.
“People are upset about what’s going on today. They’re furious, they’re frustrated, they’re worked up,” Hanks said. “If you’re concerned about what’s going on today, read history and figure out what to do because it’s all right there.” Hanks spoke with hope for our country’s future and noted that what is needed today is dialogue, not destruction.
It’s unlikely anyone to the right will ever listen to a “Hollywood” type, but what Hanks said is absolutely accurate. The solutions to today’s problems may very well be found in the conflicts of the past. Often, history simply repeats itself in a different time and location. Every situation that has every arisen throughout human history has one common denominator – people.
Most social, religious and political conflicts in America are caused by a lack of knowledge, an ignorance that is either innate or self-imposed. Without an understanding of the person standing next to you, his trials and tribulations, his background and motivation, it is impossible to identify with him and that leads to conflict.
Taking the time to compare today’s issues with similar situations in the past might help better manage current conflicts and find possible solutions because we know how they were finally resolved. Obviously, we should be investigating any negative outcomes, like war or civil unrest, to see how they can be avoided.
How many times do people say, “Wow, if I’d only known then what I know now?” An insight apparently lacking in President Donald Trump’s character. If he would look backward he’d learn that there were several other presidents that faced the same kinds of situations and resistance. Herbert Hoover, for example, was, like Trump, a terrible communicator.
President on the eve of the Great Depression, Hoover was seen to many as mean and uncaring as the economy collapsed because of his rigid adherence to conservative principals. While he made efforts to lower taxes and create public works projects that would help with jobs, he refused any sort of outright relief programs.
As a result, the economy sank even deeper into depression and the shanty towns where people were forced to live after losing everything were nicknamed Hoovervilles, in his “honor.” Hoover is largely regarded, though often not by his conservative disciples, as one of the worst presidents in U.S. history. And Trump is on the road to the same end if he doesn’t learn from the past. Then again, it doesn’t seem like anyone who leans to the right these days is interested in facts unless they directly refute a democrat.
Trying to enact policy just because it defies the opposition seems to be how politics on both sides of the aisle runs today. At this point, no one at the legislative level cares about those of us down here in the real world, this kind of historical ignorance is simply ego and one-upsmanship.
You hear it every day in the news media. Some politician on the left will say something and everyone on the right refutes it, just because it came from the other side.
Imagine this exchange one sunny afternoon on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. “The sky is blue,” declares a Republican senator one day, stating a fact – something kind of new to him. While across the aisle, his Democrat opponent pops up from her seat and defiantly exclaims, “That’s a lie! It’s green!”
And it continues indefinitely, back and forth, with charts, graphs, testimony from non-blue-sky believers, and on and on. But neither will ever back down because to do so is weak, and the ego must remain intact, regardless of how idiotic they sound. Just resisting any other ideas but your party line is not only ignorant but potentially destructive.
The point is that we could solve a great many problems in modern politics if we just consider how history shows we dealt with some of the same kinds of people and issues. As poet and philosopher George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Gery L. Deer is an independent columnist and business writer. More at gerydeer.com.