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When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock
And you hear the kyouck and gobble of the struttin’ turkey cock
And the clackin’ of the guineys, and the cluckin’ of the hens
And the rooster’s hallylooyer as he tiptoes on the fence
O, it’s then’s the times a feller is a-feelin’ at his best
With the risin’ sun to greet him from a night of peaceful rest
As he leaves the house, bareheaded, and goes out to feed the stock
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock

James Whitcomb RileyWhen the Frost is on the Punkin


Feel good, populist identity politics is nothing new.  It is always infused with nostalgia and empty promises.  It invokes warm and fuzzy memories that can’t be trusted, of a world that seemed to make sense once, because we didn’t understand how little we actually knew about it.  It takes us back to simpler times when we were the only ones in the world, when Mom and Pops watched over us, and fixed things when they went against us.  It makes promises to restore that world as we remember it, though that world was never real in fact.

Don’t get snookered!  We can’t bring back that cozy past that never was, any more than we can restore old jobs and industries to a world that has moved on, where they no longer have a place. We can’t pay American workers a wage that makes the cost of producing goods here so far above the cost of producing them in China that we can’t sell them on the world market.  We can’t make coal mines pay off in an economy that now burns much cheaper fracked natural gas.  We can’t raise wages for jobs that automatons can do much more cheaply.  The economy has outgrown our geopolitical boundaries, and that change is irreversible.  We can’t go home again.

We can’t deny that some people remember the past differently, and those differences cause them to act from principles that differ from our own, but may be just as righteous as ours.  It is small wonder that Russia, which grew to prominence whilst under threat from culturally alien invaders on every flank, feels the need to have a strongman at the top, or that America, with wide oceans separating it from its enemies, could evolve the baroque machinery of democracy that is so challenged in today’s much smaller world.  We are constantly reminded that we must share this world with many others, some of whom are of our kind, and some of whom are not.  They all have as much a right to be here as we do, and to make the rules they live by.

No one is going to fix this for us.  We must do that ourselves.  We can begin by listening to one another, instead of standing by with our minds shut off while the others speak, waiting our turn like a guerilla planning an ambush, then making harsh, inflexible demands when it is our turn to speak.  We gain nothing but resentment by shouting all the others down so all the turns become our own.  By imposing our national will through our military might we make lasting enemies, but little else in the long run.

We must listen, we must talk, and then, glancing back but moving ever forward, we must act.  We must know what our core values are, and understand needs and aspirations of the billions with whom we share our block, our province, our nation, and  this ever-shrinking planet.  We must be able to give a little, even when it means a lot to us.  We must convince the others to give a little, too, even when it means a lot to them.  A compromise born of dishonesty, greed, or force does move us forward, and will not last.  We must pull up the deep tap roots of racial, ethnic, and religious prejudice that may have served a historical purpose when the world was more spread out, but have no place in today’s jumbled up, cheek-by-jowl world.  If we don’t negotiate as equals we are not negotiating at all; we are bullying or being bullied.  We must reserve violence and war for only the most egregious circumstances, and forsake nuclear weapons altogether.  Otherwise we all give it all away for nothing.

In this way we all move ahead together in little increments.  We can only move forward, we cannot go back.  If we are careful, if we listen to what Lincoln (who knew a thing or two about compromise as well as holding fast) called the Better Angels of our Nature, the world grows slowly better day by day.  If we rely on self-interest and greed (as the captains of our economy and politics seem to be doing now) we will all slide into darkness together. Together is the operative word.   Like it or not, whatever world we build, we have to all live in it together.

Wunst they wuz a little boy wouldn’t say his prayers,
–An’ when he went to bed at night, away up-stairs,
His Mammy heerd him holler, an’ his Daddy heerd him bawl,
An’ when they turn’t the kivvers down, he wuzn’t there at all!
An’ they seeked him in the rafter-room, an’ cubby-hole, an’ press,
An’ seeked him up the chimbly-flue, an’ ever’-wheres, I guess;
But all they ever found wuz thist his pants an’ roundabout:
–An’ the Gobble-uns ‘ll git you
Ef you

WatchOut!   James Whitcomb RileyLittle Orphant Annie

Say your prayers if you must.  You will always find the answers that you need deep within yourself, where God leaves them for you whether or not you pray. (God, whatever else He may or may not be, will always be a useful metaphor.)
Look to the past for guidance, but it is a future we are building.  Look forward, eyes always on the prize, but watch your back… the gobble-uns ‘ll git you ef you don’t watch out.