The View from Rattlesnake Ridge
By WAYNE D. KING
Reconciliation Demands Truth and Justice as its Partner
My neighbor Bill appeared in his doorway this morning, as I was setting out on my ramble, with a smile on his lips. “Feels like Spring doesn’t it?” he quipped cheerily.
Here we are just a few days from inauguration day and – if I didn’t know better – I would have thought that he was talking about that, not the spell of warm weather we are having here in the valley.
But I know that Bill will not be cheering for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as they stand before the nation to take the oath of office. He made sure to show me his Trump lawn sign on the day he brought it home last fall so it was not likely that he had undergone a conversion.
I smiled and agreed with his assessment, content for the moment to revel in my own interpretation of his meaning but aware that what lay within the gaps – the unspoken reality – will be playing out across the nation in the coming days, months, years perhaps.
Today our nation faces the test of two pandemics: one scientific and one moral, both posing existential threats to all that we hold dear. Both in need of the same cure – TRUTH.
As of today, nearly 400,000 people have died, many unnecessarily, from the toxic brew of COVID-19 and the accompanying lies, incompetence and misdirection of an administration more interested in conjuring up conspiracies and redirecting blame than protecting our citizens.
In addition to the firestorm of criticism and alarm over the storming of the Capital, there has been a growing effort by supporters of President Trump to attempt to redirect our attention with calls for healing and national reconciliation. For the most part, their argument has been that the President has been defeated and with that, is only days from leaving. Our efforts and focus, they now contend, should be directed at moving on and bringing the country together.
In other words, just ignore the fact that 93% of Republican members of Congress voted against impeachment in the face of overwhelming evidence that the President and his minions had actively incited insurrection; a direct attack on American Democracy. For this reconciliation cannot come without a cost and that cost is truth.
Furthermore, only one week before that – immediately after the attack on the capital – 8 Republican Senators and 66% of House Republicans refused to acknowledge and certify the election results, stubbornly sticking to the playbook of lies that have polluted social media and represent a long-term existential threat to the Republic.
For months now I have been pulling at threads that weave a painful, long and winding path to today. One such thread even leads back to my beloved hometown and state and even to a younger version of myself.
Until recently, I had come to believe the role that Attorney General Bill Barr has played in our descent into the shadows of American authoritarianism was an unprecedented threat to the Republic. After all, much of the covering fire for Donald Trump’s attack on the norms of democracy and the rule of law has been aided and abetted by AG Barr.
However, as it turns out, Barr’s behavior had precedent in that of New Hampshire-born Nathan Clifford, a Democrat, who figured prominently into not one, but two of the greatest historic tragedies in American History: The Trail of Tears that stole the homelands and forced Native American communities from the Southeast onto lands in what is now Oklahoma; and the destruction of post-Civil War Reconstruction and the birth of Jim Crow.
In 1832, over the opposition of American icons Daniel Webster, Davy Crockett, John Quincy Adams and Ralph Waldo Emerson, the United States Congress passed President Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act. For six years the Cherokee nation valiantly tried to fight removal – peacefully – through the US Courts. In the end, they won only to have Jackson ignore the ruling of the United States Supreme Court, declaring “Mr. (Justice John) Marshall has made his ruling, now let him enforce it.” Ultimately, it was then-Attorney General Nathan Clifford who would rule – without justification – that the Indian removal was permissible. More than 25% of the men, women and children who began the Trail of Tears would not survive the journey, especially children and the elderly.
Nearly 40 years later, Clifford, by now a United States Supreme Court Associate Justice would be the deciding vote on the Tilden/Hayes Commission that decided what was at that time the closest election in US history in favor of Rutherford Hayes in a backroom political deal that ended Reconstruction and began what would come to be known as the Jim Crow era, condemning the United States to another 150 years of racial injustice.
These betrayals of our American ideals have been papered over in the past 150 years, by generations of Americans, Including me when I sponsored what I thought to be an innocuous bill in the late 1980’s to name a rest area in honor of Clifford, an act I regret and renounce today.
This time, the betrayal of our Republic has been at the hands of the Republican Party. That betrayal has been profound and there can be no reconciliation without acknowledgment of the damage that the party has inflicted on the Republic.
A strong two-party system is in the best interest of the American political system, but the Republican Party need not survive in order for that to be possible once again. In fact, without confronting the truth and purging those who have aided and abetted the Republican party’s descent into authoritarianism and white nationalism the party does not deserve to survive. The Republicans can just as easily go the way of the Whigs as long as another party – one actually dedicated to the American Republic emerges.
But make no mistake neither party is without blame over the long arc of American history. The Democrats have plenty of shame and blood on their hands from the Trail of Tears to Jim Crow.
America has arrived at a moment and only the cleansing of our national soul will help us to truly move beyond this together.
Reconciliation is the balm to heal hearts but truth and justice must be the arrow that delivers it.
Wayne King is an author, artist, activist and recovering politician. A three-term State Senator, he was the 1994 Democratic nominee for Governor and most recently the CEO of MOP Environmental Solutions Inc., a public company in the environmental cleanup space. His art (WayneDKing.com) is exhibited nationally in galleries and he has published three books of his images with another, “New Hampshire – a Love Story”, on the way. His most recent novel “Sacred Trust” a vicarious, high voltage adventure to stop a private powerline is available on Amazon.com. He lives in Thornton, between Rattlesnake Ridge and the Waterville Range. He proudly flies both the American and Iroquois Flags. His website is: http://bit.ly/WayneDKing