I would hope all of us have these profound moments in life we never forget, that haunt us in both an uncomfortable yet good way. Mine was nearly a half-century ago when Ruth Newhall shook her head at me and pronounced: “You — are woefully ignorant.”
The Signal editor uttered it in her patented, quivering Katherine Hepburn voice. Her observation didn’t hurt my feelings, nor embarrass me. I was in my early 20s, wild, stubborn, rebellious in a better-watch-out Greek mythology kind of way. Deep down, I knew Mrs. Newhall was right. I also knew even then, I didn’t have to stay that way.
The absolute hilarity is I’m in my 70s now. I’ve read, studied, took classes, hung out with people smarter than me for the good company and enthusiastic hope some of it might rub off. And, I’m still “woefully ignorant.” Ten thousand years from now, I’ll be — somewhere — and I’ll still be “woefully ignorant.” That’s both the loving comedy and truth of Life. The smartest in all fields can spend a lifetime studying a specific discipline and ruefully realize that there’s still so much to learn. Worse? A disturbing tonnage of what you thought you’ve learned is incorrect.
The long hike of an unending life.
I’ve described myself not as Democrat or Republican, but rather as a “methodist,” lower-case “m.” I’m not interested in a T-shirt, but rather, in what truly works. I’ve immersed myself in news, politics, sociology and ideas since I was in elementary school. Over the past few months, I’ve been wincing at an oft-repeated cliché, uttered nearly completely from the Right. To paraphrase: “The American people aren’t that dumb.” The bumper-sticker-ism is smugly aimed at the current administrations, federal, state and local, and the mad dog cultish and suicidal ineptitude of Liberalism.
I disagree. I think the American people are that dumb.
Nearly two years later, there still is a royal hub-bub on the honesty of the 2020 presidential election, where Joe Biden pulled in a record 80 million votes to win the Oval Office. Was there chicanery on the part of the Democrats? Well. The emotional me would love to snap a branch off a tree, pound the ground with it and make self-righteous chimpanzee noises. The problem today is I can’t trust information, period. My side. Their side. The mythological independent side. We’ve got 300 million citizens in the country. Most know how to expertly give an interview on camera, with right pauses, good voice inflection, nice vocal tone. Most don’t know the Sidewalks of San Francisco from Shinola.
The thing that still bothers me about the last election is not whether Biden received 80.0003 million votes or 79.9999999 million votes. It’s that we live in a country where there exists more than two dozen people who’d cast ballots for this indolent boob. I’m not talking his current state of leaking tub of green cottage cheese disrepair.
It’s beyond disturbing to think 50 million or 0.5 million people would vote for Biden, with his half-century preposterously clownish record of not-so-much public service. Donald Trump was a polarizing leader. If I were his guardian angel, I’d thump him in the sternum, preface with a “Listen, Bub…” and not advice, but threaten: “The next time you’re about to say, yell or tweet something, put both hands over your mouth, along with a nicely sterilized toilet plunger, count to 24, in hours, not seconds, then call three wise and spiritual friends before answering and NEVER PUNCH DOWN.” Even on The Donald’s worst day, I’d still vote for him over Lynette Alice “Squeaky” Fromme or McGoo-Biden. I’d vote for the Manson apostle over Joe because she couldn’t cause more harm than our current organized crime figure president. Certainly, her speeches would be clearer.
“The American people aren’t that dumb?”
There’s “woefully ignorant.” Then there’s “willfully ignorant,” which is a sin. A terrible one. Sadly, this is America, 2022.
I remember a few years ago, watching a Man-On-The-Street playful interview. The latest Godzilla movie had just come out and essentially, the question was that Godzilla, a giant reptilian monster, had just attacked Tokyo. “Should the United States send money and resources to rebuild the Japanese capitol?” They don’t show the eye-rolling pedestrians who dash past the questioner. But, as if on a PBS news program, people expertly voiced how terrible the event was. That giant upright lizard should be punished. America should open its purse to make Tokyo bigger and better than ever.
Walking amongst us, there are people who can’t name a country that borders the U.S. Or who fought in the Civil War. Or when — roughly — was World War II fought. I’ve met people, not kidding on this, who don’t know where the sun rises or where it sets, nor can they hazard a rough guess about the whereabouts of North, South, East or West. Can’t name a senator, a Supreme Court justice, their congressman nor certainly any state, county or local representative.
They’ll be outraged at L.A. County District Attorney George Gascón. But, will they put in the effort to get in the car to sign a recall petition? Mostly, they won’t. Will they unwittingly vote for the next Gascón, or pick a well-resumé-d idiot local school board member or dog catcher allergic to dogs?
If I may call upon myself…
Woefully ignorant is fixable.
Willfully ignorant? It’s much harder.
Good people are attracted to public service and politics. But, so are fly-eating miscreants, psychos and perverts. From local education to Washington, from news and social media to business, they are now entrenched in our institutions. I assure you. They didn’t fly in via helicopter. We put them there. Then we fan ourselves coquettishly, flutter our eyelashes and helplessly ask how did things get so terrible?
Willful ignorance. Add a dash of blaming others, a sprinkle of denial, a dab of playing the victim and a self-righteous touch of, “How dare you!”
Will we tolerate self-destruction?
Well. We have been, haven’t we?
John Boston is a local writer. Do please visit his bookstore — johnbostonbooks.com.