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Democratic candidate for the House of Delegates,18th District thinks we can do better



This week, the Virginia legislature passed the 2021 budget to spend the proceeds of the American Rescue Plan (HB 7001). This budget provides funding for salary raises for law enforcement officers, replenishes the unemployment fund, increases funding for college education and mental health services, supports access to high-speed internet for all Virginians by 2024, and other projects improving the quality of life for all Virginians. With all this, it still ends up with a budget surplus.

This budget bill passed with significant bipartisan support; more than half of the Republican caucus voted in favor. Unfortunately, Michael Webert, the delegate from our 18th District, was among the minority who voted against this excellent legislation. This is not in the least bit surprising; Delegate Webert seems to think the duty of a delegate is simply to vote against any bill that crosses his desk. In the combined 2020-21 sessions, there were 115 “key votes, according to the “Vote Smart” website. Webert voted “aye” on only 20 of these.

The 18th District deserves better. We need a delegate who evaluates legislation on its merits, and votes in the interest of the citizens of the district and of Virginia. That doesn’t seem to be Michael Webert.

Douglas Ward
Candidate for House of Delegates

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Response to Letters to the Editor by Mr. Waller Wilson



In response to Mr. Wilson’s request for “C.J. Cook to cite some sources for his/her opinion,”.

First, some house cleaning: it is his, not her; C.J. stands for Cyril Joseph. Second when I submitted the article to the Royal Examiner, I had footnoted my sources in the article’s footer. I don’t know why they did not appear in the post. They are repeated here for info: “Hot Talk Cold Science” by Singer, Chapter 6 p77, “Dark Winter” by Casey, Appendix 3 Figure A3-2 p89.

As to the question on CO2, chapter 10 of “Hot Talk Cold Science” (revised and expanded third edition copyright 2021) is devoted to the subject of CO2in the atmosphere. Chapter 10, page 130, states: “Greenhouse gas” means only that CO2 absorbs some radiation; it does not guarantee climate warming, the forcing of CO2 depends on where it is in the atmosphere. Its actual behavior depends mostly on atmospheric structure, expressed by atmospheric lapse rate (ALR), and is defined as the change in atmospheric temperature with altitude.

The Atmospheric Lapse Rate (ALR) is different for the three regions of the atmosphere. The ALR is positive for the Stratosphere, Zero for the Tropopause, and Negative for the Troposphere. This supports the principle that depending on where in the atmosphere, the radiation on the CO2 molecules can produce cooling. The following statement on the Climate4U website is taken from a graph of CO2 in ppm and HadCRUT3 temperature.

Climate4You website 20080927: Reflections on the correlation between global temperature and atmospheric CO2 “By this, the diagram illustrates that the overall relation between atmospheric CO2 and global temperature apparently has changed several times since 1958.

In the early part of the period, with CO2 concentrations close to 315 ppm, an increase in CO2 was associated with decreasing global air temperatures. When the CO2 concentration around 1975 reached 325 ppm, this association changed, and increasing atmospheric CO2 was now associated with rising global temperatures. However, when the CO2 concentration at the turn of the century reached about 378 ppm, the association possibly changed back to that, characterizing the period before 1975, before apparently changing again around 2014.” So the curve fit shows a decrease after 1958 followed by an increase until July of 2022, when it slope became negative again. The data and graph were updated on 8 September 2022.

These are the sources (and some additional data) you requested.

Cyril J. Cook
Strasburg, Va.

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I think it’s safe to say that Tangiers Island is safe from the “Doomsday Glacier” as a matter of public policy.



I just read “Commentary: National approach is more urgent than stopgap funding for Tangier Island,” written by Roger Chesley for the Virginia Mercury news service. The commentary starts out:

“A so-called “doomsday glacier” in Antarctica that could raise sea levels several feet is disintegrating faster than previously predicted, according to a new study.”

I clicked on the Nature study that is linked, and it does not give a prediction for sea level rise, but it references another study that does give a sea level rise prediction and timeline. The referenced study (unfortunately abstract only) is here, and it says:

“Simulated losses are moderate (<0.25 mm per year at sea level) over the 21st century but generally increase thereafter.”

In other words, less than an inch of sea level rise between now and 2100, with a more rapid rise starting between 200 and 900 years from now. I think it’s safe to say that Tangiers Island is safe from the “Doomsday Glacier” as a matter of public policy.

But what about sea level rise from other sources? There’s sea level rise from expanding oceans due to global warming. There’s also glacier melt, Greenland melt, and other Antarctic melt. Sea level rise is constantly measured by satellite. An up-to-date estimate can be found here: It comes to an adjusted 1.3 inches (an actual rise of 1.1 before adjustment) per decade with some acceleration, as shown.

However, there’s another major factor for Tangier Island, as Roger points out in an op-ed that he links in “Commentary”:

“He (Skip Stiles, executive director of Norfolk-based Wetlands Watch) said the Virginia Institute of Marine Science delivered a report to the legislature last year on recurrent flooding in Tidewater. It noted an expected 18-inch increase in sea-level rise over the next 20 to 50 years in Virginia.”

The Tidewater area, including Tangier Island, is subsiding. There is another Nature study describing the subsidence around Tangier Island and providing some predictions of sea level rise::

I believe all measurements, predictions, costs, and benefits should be considered with full caveats and context. As is the case in a representative democracy, politicians will make the decision whether to spend money preserving Tangiers for at least a few decades and potentially longer. As I have said before, we are not a scientocracy, and we should consider science, such as sea level rise predictions, as one of the inputs to the political process.

Eric Peterson
Front Royal, VA

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Commentary: Miyares plays ‘election integrity’ politics to romance the MAGA base



Politicians will play politics. And there’s nothing wrong with that, generally.

The problem comes when the malignant notion takes hold that an overwhelmingly clean, fair process of administering elections is fair game for a partisan disinformation campaign to subvert public faith in the process and impose a corrupt system under one-party control.

The MAGA wing of today’s Republican Party knows that its ever-deepening right-wing nationalism, its penchant for bizarre and baseless conspiracies and the extremist candidates it attracts will alienate America’s mainstream and make it harder to win fair elections in an increasingly diverse nation without its heavy thumb on the scales.

The latest to give comfort toward that antidemocratic end is Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares, who is creating a 20-person “election integrity unit” in his office. That’s particularly dismaying because Miyares is not among the Republicans who falsely claim President Joe Biden usurped Donald Trump’s presidency through fraud. At least that’s what the office’s spokeswoman, Victoria LaCivita, recently assured the Mercury’s Graham Moomaw.

But Miyares can’t resist playing politics and pandering to the GOP’s Trumpist hard-liners whom he could ask to nominate him for governor of Virginia in less than three years.

I’ve covered elections and the machinery for carrying them out from the precinct level to the top echelons of state government for decades. Perhaps the most edifying part of that job is witnessing firsthand each year how ordinary Virginians, motivated by a strong civic spirit, invest exhausting hours at neighborhood voting precincts so citizens can vote. Up and down the line in Virginia, under Republican and Democratic administrations, election officials played it by the book without regard to party or ideology, helping Virginia’s electorate translate its collective will and wisdom into government policy.

The system was never perfect. Mistakes occur. Antiquated technology fails. There’s both misfeasance and malfeasance, but deliberate wrongdoing on a scale that can alter an election’s legitimate outcome is exceedingly rare.

One validation is the risk-limiting audits the Department of Elections conducts after each statewide election as required by Virginia law.

In the 2020 presidential and U.S. Senate races, the audit found that the risk of a mistake large enough to reverse outcomes of the election – victories for Democrats Biden and Sen. Mark Warner – was less than a ten-thousandth of a percentage point. Expressed another way, the audit found accuracy levels for both races exceeded 99.9999%.

For the 2021 race, dominated by Gov. Glenn Youngkin and his GOP ticket, the risk-limiting audit tested two House of Delegates races – the 13th House District won by Democratic Del. Danica Roem over Republican Christopher Stone, both from Manassas, and the 75th District won by Republican Otto Wachmann over longtime Democratic Del. Roslyn Tyler, both of Sussex – and again found accuracy levels exceeding 99.7%.

Malicious efforts to vote illegally or fraudulently influence an outcome are scarce if prosecutions or official litigation are a reliable measure.

The conservative Heritage Foundation has created a searchable online database of all the “recent proven instances of election fraud from across the country” that it can find. For context, it considers the early 1990s recent. It calls the database “a sampling” and “not an exhaustive or comprehensive list.”

The database, spanning at least eight presidential elections, documents 1,375 proven instances of fraud. Of that total, 1,182 resulted in criminal convictions, 48 resulted in civil penalties, 103 resulted in a diversion program, and 42 resulted in official or judicial findings, which can sometimes overturn the result of an election or exclude a candidate from the ballot.

Twenty of the 1,375 cases were in Virginia. They date to 2007, and none involved findings that reversed elections. Six of the cases were false registrations, and five each were for ineligible voting, mostly by felons, and ballot petition fraud, mostly bogus signatures. The most serious case, tried in 2007, involved the former mayor of Appalachia and 14 others who were convicted of conspiring to buy votes in the 2004 municipal election with, among other things, cigarettes, beer and pork rinds. The mayor served two years in jail and two years of monitored home detention in what the Heritage Foundation calls “the largest voter fraud conspiracy to date in Virginia.”

Because the database includes only cases in which there has been a dispositive outcome, it does not reflect the recent indictment of Michele White, a former top Prince William County election official, on corruption charges as announced by Miyares’ office. As The Washington Post reported on Sept. 7, current Prince William County Registrar Eric Olsen said that a small number of votes in the 2020 election may have been affected, but not enough to affect any election results.

Voting or election fraud is a serious business in a democracy. It deserves to be prosecuted. For every vote illegally cast or every action that falsifies or cheats someone out of the right to vote, a citizen is deprived of his or her franchise, the most precious of blessings in a democratic republic. The same goes for deceitful and intimidating voter-suppression tactics.

But to assert that it is somehow pervasive, as “election integrity” crusades rooted in Trump’s corrosive election lies do, is wrong.

Consider that in the 15-year span during which those 20 Virginia cases were adjudicated, nearly 41 million Virginians voted in fall general elections. That doesn’t count special elections, local municipal or county races or primaries.

That’s hardly a ratio that demands a call to arms.

Miyares knows that. He’s a smart guy and a good lawyer. He knows that the office to which he was elected already has “full authority to do whatever is necessary or appropriate to enforce the election laws or prosecute violations thereof.” His prosecution of White had already demonstrated that better than his subsequent announcement of an election bunko squad ever could.

There’s less to his strike force than meets the eye. It has no separate budget. It will be composed primarily of staff who can juggle election investigations alongside other duties to which they are already assigned.

But, alas, it’s good politics – for Miyares, anyway. Not only does it stoke a GOP base that will likely be asked to choose between him and Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears in 2025 for the party’s gubernatorial nomination, but the unit stands to get a lot of fodder tossed its way soon because of an impending change in the partisan makeup of electoral boards in all 133 localities.

Among the spoils that go to the victor of gubernatorial elections is the right to have the new governor’s party dominate state and local electoral boards. Next year, those boards shift from Democratic majorities to GOP majorities. And in Miyares, they have an attorney general with a platoon poised to pounce on any perceived irregularities they feed him.

How better to contrive an argument for restoring the restrictive voting laws the GOP implemented while it dominated the General Assembly for most of the first two decades of the 21st century? Laws like the photo ID requirement and rigid constraints on early and absentee voting that made it hard for marginalized and disabled Virginians to vote were repealed after Democrats briefly won full control of the General Assembly in 2019. Republicans, who regained a slim House majority last year, advanced voting restriction bills in the 2021 legislative session, but they died in a Democratic Senate.

You’d hope that Miyares and his party could advance beyond one election in which Virginia (and the nation) repudiated the most noxious president in U.S. history without trying to immolate the nation’s imperfect yet solid election infrastructure in obsequious fealty to Trump’s delusions. Virginia proved to the country last November, just one year after it had resoundingly elected Democrats, that its system is not rigged against Republicans.

And nothing made the case better than Miyares’ own impressive victory, the most unexpected of them all.

by Bob Lewis, Virginia Mercury

Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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Commentary: Ancient of Age – the Social Dilemma



How old is too old? Too old for what? Society has many strange expectations of how we should act and what we should be doing as we migrate through the scores of years in route to the finish line. When is it too old to wear certain fashions or sport particular hairstyles? When is it too old to date or marry someone? What are the expectations for watching certain movies (think Star Wars or Harry Potter), and how old is too old to attend certain venues? (Think bars and nightclubs). We are not even going to talk about shoe fashions, skinny jeans, or pleated slacks.

What should the disposition of a forty-year-old person be versus one ten years older? If you are fortunate enough to grow older, the expectation is that you are supposed to know how to act when you arrive. However, most just wing it. If you need further education on how to conduct yourself at a certain age, kindly ask. There is no shortage of opinions out there.

The road to the finish is veiled and hazy. Everyone navigates through life in his or her own fashion. Some people have a short adventuresome life, and some have a long one. You have likely heard the adage, “It is not the years in your life but the life in your years.” Some people do more in thirty years than the rest of us do in eighty. Along the way, we encounter a labyrinth of options with few guidelines mapping the road considered acceptable – especially regarding the subjective concepts of being too old for this or that. The guidelines for aging within the parameters of societal norms are mostly subjective.

Essentially, age is a state of mind. You are as old as you feel. If you are in your 40s and feel like a teenager, then good for you – but be cognizant of the laws surrounding such feelings. Recently, I walked into a happening venue in South Tampa only to realize I was a hundred years older than everyone else. I thought, “One of these folks is not like the others.” It was me. Simply put, I felt “too old.”

Luck often dictates how we discover the unwritten standards that we are obliged to follow. We have all heard the gossipers, “She’s too old to be wearing that outfit,” or “he still wears blue jeans with no belt like he is perpetually twenty,” or “he’s driving a sports car – so he’s having a mid-life crisis.” When should a woman stop wearing skimpy swimwear or short skirts? “She’s too old to wear her hair long.” There are no published standards for such things – yet if you unwittingly violate them, you are subject to ridicule.

Dating and marriage really bring out the pundits. “She’s married to a sugar daddy almost twice her age,” or the converse, “he’s a cradle robber.” There are no written guidelines for such things as long as all involved are of legal status. Some people say, who cares? I fall into that camp, but collectively our opinions run rampant – especially these days on social media. I guess we need something to talk about, or life would be boring.

My research into the realm of “old age” uncovered about three written codes for issues on aging. Those are guidelines provided by insurance agencies and the rules governing Social Security and retirement communities. The insurance agents display metrics regarding your plight in life as it pertains to life expectancy. They will gladly point out the norms for retirement age and statistics regarding your remaining time in the game. The only other guidelines I could find were the bounds for Social Security benefits and retirement communities.

If you are not sure when you are supposed to be old – consult the Social Security guidelines. Essentially, you are officially old at age 62, as that is your first opportunity to reap “old people” benefits.

You are definitely proclaimed “old” at age 70 when you automatically get Social Security benefits. Retirement communities also offer a bit of clarity regarding the perceptions of being old. You cannot live there until you are “old” enough. If you opt to live there at the youngest allowable age – then your friends will have a field day with gossip. Consequently, you navigate on.

Although most firms balk at hiring someone in their 70s, people continue to hire senior citizens to run the country. The last two presidents, according to Social Security parameters, were officially old. Apparently, you are never too old to be President. But the few that belong to that club have reached the pinnacle of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and pay no attention to the “You are too old to be president” noise. The recent passing of the British monarch showed that it is possible to preside over a country well into your nineties. However, most of us expect to stop performing before that and consider ninety “old age.” The politically correct police have other terms for it, but we move on.

The simple fact is, human beings have a shelf life, and some models last longer than others do. Eventually, we all get “old” and stop. The 1982 movie “Blade Runner” provides an interesting take on that regarding the lifespan of android models and humans. As alluded to earlier, the question is – when are we too old for something? Take Tom Brady, for example. He is like Peter Pan and cannot grow up.

Tom Brady, aka TB12 or the GOAT, is 45 years old and considered by some the Greatest Of All Time – hence the GOAT thing. He plays in a league where the average age is 26 years old. By the way, that is less than the average age in the NFL five years ago. He competes against players young enough to be his offspring. Meanwhile, he continues to excel in a profession that showcases some of the largest and most physically fit humans on the planet. The pundits have proclaimed TB12 too old to play in the NFL for years. Eventually, they will be right – but not right now. He does not share in those perceptions, and his mental state and physical prowess are apparently undaunted by the spell of aging. Good for Tom. However, rumor has it that even his 42-year-old wife has threatened divorce if he does not grow up and retire. Talk about an abused senior citizen. Poor Peter Pan.

Wine and other alcoholic spirits get better with age. Typically, most humans do not. There is a saying, “the older I get, the better I was,” but that saying is likely associated with embellishment of past adventures. Speaking of such, if you get ‘old enough,’ you can spin tales of past exploits any way you please, as there are no other living participants to dispute your recollection. Unfortunately, if you luckily arrive at old age, memory loss becomes an impediment, as does the challenge of finding an attentive audience. Of course, there are symptoms of getting old, and they usually surface in the form of impaired cognition and a reduction in physical prowess. I often hear the comment, “getting old sucks.” So, in a way, we are somewhat cognizant that we are getting old, but we still trip over the expectations and social norms along the way.

Birthdays are a problem we all have annually. Getting old means more candles on the cake. Your first clue to getting old is when the birthday cake has only two candles. Visualize a candle with a five and one with a zero side by side as the person turns half a hundred. Then ten years later, visualize the combination of two candles that add up to sixty. Pragmatism and logistics rule this concept. There is great difficulty in firing up sixty small candles. Invariably, the first ones lit tend to bleed wax all over the cake before the main event. People that old are not renowned for their respiratory capacity either, so blowing out sixty candles may be setting them up for failure. The bottom line is that the golden years are not all that, but getting there beats the alternative.

Due to human nature, it is almost impossible not to be tangled in societal issues regarding aging. However, in reality, we should not worry with any of this. It is highly unlikely that anyone that knows us will be walking the earth three-quarters of a century from now to comment on our fashion faux pas or any of our choices in life. We can only hope that we “grow old” gracefully and enjoy the ride through life. The alternative will show up soon enough.

In the words of Hunter S. Thompson, “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming ‘Wow! What a Ride!’ ”

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Commentary: National approach is more urgent than stopgap funding for Tangier Island



A so-called “doomsday glacier” in Antarctica that could raise sea levels several feet is disintegrating faster than previously predicted, according to a new study.

And an analysis by Climate Central, an independent science and communications group, found that because of sea level rise, local governments will face steep cuts in revenues as taxable land is subject to flooding, my colleague Sarah Vogelsong reported this week.

Against this dire backdrop, Virginia’s two senators, Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, recently secured $25 million in a budget proposal for imperiled Tangier Island, the place once explored by John Smith and colonized by the English centuries ago.

The money would fund a pilot project to repurpose dredging material on Tangier, The Washington Post reported. The funding still has several legislative steps to clear before becoming law. Tangier residents can’t afford to pay for such projects themselves.

The disconnect between dire climate reality and rose-colored optimism is stark.

Nor does the dredging proposal take into account similarly jeopardized communities around the United States. They will beg for their own federal lifeline. Most are bigger and have thousands more people than the 1.2-square-mile island in the Chesapeake Bay with a population of about 450 people.

The adage remains true: Size matters.

Yet I wasn’t surprised by the sanguine statements Kaine and Warner, both Democrats, issued about bolstering Tangier. They’re representing their constituents, after all.

The island “boasts a thriving tourism industry, a rich history, and a delicate natural ecosystem that boasts the Chesapeake Bay’s signature blue crabs,” Warner, through a spokesperson, said Tuesday. “Most importantly, Tangier is home to hundreds of Virginians – many of them watermen who have driven Virginia’s seafood industry for many generations. The truth is, we can’t afford to give up on such a quintessential part of Virginia.”

Kaine noted through a spokesperson: “Tangier is a cultural and historic gem that is treasured by people from all over America, as well as a crucial piece of the Chesapeake Bay’s fishing and crabbing economy. I’m fighting for this funding because Virginians and all Americans stand to lose a great deal if this island becomes uninhabitable.”

He and Rep. Elaine Luria, a fellow Democrat, recently toured the island with local officials.

The initiative by the two senators is well-meaning, but dubious. Enormous sums of taxpayer dollars would be needed to fight against nature. It could be a fruitless task.

The proposed funding is a fraction of an estimated $250 million to $350 million needed to fully restore and protect Tangier Island, David Schulte, a marine biologist with the Army Corps of Engineers in Norfolk, told me this week. He’s been visiting the island since 2002, and he co-wrote research with his son last year about the island’s current situation and long-term outlook.

Schulte’s dim assessment, if there’s no large-scale intervention: The town could be abandoned by 2053.

“I personally would like to save the island,” Schulte noted. “Their culture is very unique.”

Federal funding to Tangier, however, would delay the tough – though necessary – discussion about whether to relocate the dwindling number of residents on the island 12 miles from the Eastern Shore. A comprehensive, national approach is needed for similarly jeopardized communities.

The Tangier dredging initiative is a stop-gap effort, at best. Schulte noted officials would still need to raise homes on the island and do lots more work.

The Climate Central analysis found that almost 650,000 individual parcels of property, across up to 4.4 million acres, are projected to fall below changing tidal boundaries by 2050. You can be sure states will be asking the feds to help.

They’ll make their cases for populations much bigger than Tangier’s.

The island has gained lots of media attention since then-President Donald Trump reached out to Mayor James “Ooker” Eskridge in 2017, after the mayor told CNN he loved Trump “as much as any family member I got.” Trump assured Eskridge the island would be around for hundreds of years to come, and that he believed – like many islanders – rising seas aren’t a threat.

So much for science.

Islanders are right, though, to be upset that government promises of help often went on the back burner. For example, a jetty project finally was completed two years ago with state and federal money, but it had been delayed about two decades.

Then there’s the aid nearby communities received. As The Post noted: “(Tangier) residents had watched with frustration as the federal government funded projects to protect a National Wildlife Refuge and residents on nearby Smith Island and to restore a wildlife habitat on Poplar Island, where no people live — using the same method on Poplar of repurposing dredge material.”

By the way, I take no joy in revisiting the issue of Tangier’s fate.

I wrote a column in 2014 headlined, “Spending to keep Tangier above water makes no cents.” In it, I opined it’s smarter to use limited public funding to relocate folks than to pay more money to fight “a battle that Mother Nature seems destined – and determined – to win” by reclaiming the island.

Judging by some responses, you would’ve thought I’d disparaged the way of life on Tangier, including its unique dialect and economy.

“You would never suggest relocation for the people of, say, New Orleans!” one fumed. Well, more than 375,000 people live in the Big Easy – and that’s post-Katrina. Moving residents there would be a more herculean, expensive task.

“There’s history on Tangier that goes back to the era of Jamestown!” OK. But given many of my detractors no longer lived on the island, they’d already voted with their feet. They were wistful for a place that was disappearing.

Then, as now, I wanted to save the lives of Tangier’s residents and use federal dollars wisely. The per-person expenditure to save Tangier is enormous. Other places around the country would say, fairly, “Why not us too?”

Relocation from Tangier isn’t cheap either, Schulte said. The cost, including decommissioning or abandonment, could be from $100 million to $200 million. That’s still less than the expense of “saving” Tangier.

“What are we as a society going to do about people facing this situation?” Schulte asked.

That’s a vital question. It’s one lawmakers must address nationwide – not just for Tangier.

Only then can they make smart choices.

by Roger Chesley, Virginia Mercury

Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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Commentary: Despite “periods of hysteria,” Truman found cause for hope in the national character



A sign made by Vicki Farrell, 65, in the back of her car at the Aragon Precinct in Virginia Beach urging calm following the 2020 election. (Roger Chesley/ For the Virginia Mercury)

Historians have an unfortunate reputation for delivering bad news. That indictment was recently bolstered by a group of the nation’s leading scholars who warned President Joe Biden that they foresaw unrest, violence and perhaps even civil war approaching the United States.

To counter those grim prospects, I am pleased to report the discovery of an historical interpretation that portends a brighter future, despite the fierce convolutions of the MAGA-minded, the persistent lies of their leaders and the violent threats of its supporters.

The optimistic tale has an unusual setting: a 1954 visit by the distinguished historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. to former President Harry Truman, whose Democrats were being shellacked by the GOP.

At the time, the Republicans were bewitched by another cult-meister — Sen. Joe McCarthy and his conspiracy theories of communists infiltrating the federal government. Beating the loud drums of xenophobia, nationalism and hatred, the GOP was undermining Truman’s legacy by charging former Secretary of State George Marshall with treason, claiming that spy rings riddled the armed forces and decrying the perils of creeping socialism, the GOP’s perennial anthem.

It sounds depressingly familiar, a mirror image of the future that historians predicted for President Biden. But during Schlesinger’s visit with Truman, the discussion took a more optimistic turn.

The historian expected to find the former president in the dumps, bemoaning evil times boding national disaster. But Truman had a surprisingly different attitude.

The former chief executive had been musing about “the incidence of periods of hysteria in American history,” Schlesinger recorded in his journals. “As he figures it, the periodicity is about 8-10 years; thus, from the Alien and Sedition Acts to the trial of Aaron Burr; the Know-Nothings and anti-abolition sentiment of the fifties; Reconstruction through the election of 1876; from A. Mitchell Palmer to the campaign of 1928.”

Truman’s analysis of periods of civic madness is accurate, but the former chief executive was not content to stop with a dissection of the problem. He went on to predict better days.

“[Truman] guesses that it will take McCarthyism 8-10 years to burn itself out — which means anywhere from 1956 to 1960 before it is over. But he affirmed, both touchingly and impressively, his faith in the decency of the American people and their capacity to recover from these binges of fear and panic.”

Given all that we have seen from the time that Donald Trump declared his candidacy for the presidency in 2015 to the present — collusion with foreign forces and dark money to win the election, insistence that white supremacists are good people, separation of mothers and babies at the border, attempts to undermine NATO, admiration for international dictators, slashes to safety nets for the poor and elderly, persistent lies about the outcome of the election, an attempted coup fostered and fueled by the president, and the theft of top-secret documents — considering all of this, can we retain Truman’s optimism for the future?

If Truman’s analysis is accurate, we should be witnessing the first signs of a return to national sanity now — seven years after Trump’s descent from his grand tower. Indeed, there are hopeful signs in the work of the Jan. 6 committee and Merrick Garland’s dogged pursuit of the truth; people are beginning to listen, to understand, to believe. These are vastly important initiatives, but we must remind ourselves that Truman rested his faith in a different place: “The decency of the American people and their capacity to recover from these binges of fear and panic.”

Ultimately, this is where we must place our faith as well. John Adams wisely noted that the first American revolution “was in the minds and hearts of the people.” And according to historian Truman, Americans have repeatedly shaken off self-imposed mental chains to overcome periods of instability like the one we are suffering. The fruits of those awakenings were a stronger national union, freedom for slaves, extension of the right to vote, broader civil rights and other inestimable blessings of liberty.

In these difficult days, a national appeal to the “better angels of our nature” may seem fatuous. But as American history has shown, “the decency of the American people” is a real force that has asserted itself at least four times in our history and proved sufficient even to heal our bloody Civil War. May it ever be.

by Guest Column, Virginia Mercury
By William Walker

William Walker is the author of Betrayal at Little Gibraltar (Scribner, 2016), a book about the Great War’s Meuse-Argonne Offensive, and he focuses his scholarship on World War I history. Before retirement, he served as associate vice president for public affairs at Virginia Tech and the College of William and Mary.

Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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