The GOP and the Limits of Positive Thinking

What counts is not necessarily the size of the dog in the fight – it’s the size of the fight in the dog
General Dwight D. Eisenhower

When I sit down to decide what I am going to write about, I am often taken aback by the sheer multitude of options. You almost have to be an octopus to be able to point to all the various areas the Republican Party and their fundamentalist Christian allies are trying to screw Americans.

You could look at it like a defender of the Alamo and go full-bore Davy Crockett and say, “We’re going to need a lot more men” or Custer: “Where the f*ck did all those Indians come from?” Or you could take the glass half-full approach and say, “Well,  what we have here is a target-rich environment!”

But this is one of those cases where more is not better. And that’s the rub: how does a person face each day in the face of so much horror?

Attitude and how you come at a problem count for a lot. As military masterminds through history have known, battles are won and lost before they are fought. Napoleon’s maxim was that the moral is to the physical as three is to one. And he was right. If you believe you are going to win, you have a much better chance than if you go into a thing assuming you have already lost.

On the street they call that mojo. It works the same way. As Colin Powell put it, “Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.”

Of course, we can’t get all giddy. Hitler thought will to win had more potency than 3-1. He thought an iron will to triumph made numbers irrelevant – technology too. But bullets will kill even the confident. There is something to be said for sober reflection, for pragmatism. And for taking cover when the shit hits the fan.

There is a good and sound reason we have sayings about Murphy’s Law. The great tragedian Aeschylus said “In war, truth is the first casualty” but lets not forget what you planned to do versus what actually happened, or as 19th-century Prussian military theorist Helmuth von Moltke said, “NO BATTLE plan ever survives first contact with the enemy.” Things seldom go the way you planned. Look what happened to the Greeks at Troy. Odysseus could certainly attest to the folly of over-optimism.

So how do we keep our equilibrium? How do we stave off despair? A religiously devout person might believe fanatically in a God and what he has been told about that God. The Crusaders tried this with their fragment of the True Cross. They thought as long as they had that artifact with them, they could not lose a battle (Paul of Tarsus’ “If God is for us, who can be against us?” put into action).

Muslim ruler Saladin showed them at the Horns of Hattin (1187) that even a super-positive mental attitude can take you only so far. Arrows and swords are real too. So we need to find a positive place from which to proceed, not one that is negative but not one that is unrealistically hopeful either. Our lesson here is that if our enemies want to pray us away, let them try.

Still, it is not easy to keep hope alive under a constant barrage of attacks, when it seems the whole world has gone mad, when you are living through what so many people said could not happen here. When you see it happening, you understand better the average German of the late 20s and early 30s. It can happen; every culture and society has people like that.

Is it depressing as hell? Yes. Even reading the news can become a chore. Writing about these events, having to delve deeper into them rather than on a superficial level, can scorch the soul. I deal with that all the time. There are days I just have to get up and walk away and pick up a good book in order to escape from the world I am forced to live in.

Leave it to J.R.R. Tolkien to have said it best, putting these words into the mouth of the wise wizard Gandalf:

“So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All you have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to you.”

And Tolkien should know, having lived through the trenches and the First World War. You do what you have to do and you don’t have to be John Wayne – or Frodo – to do it. As Ronald Reagan said, “Heroes may not be braver than anyone else. They’re just brave five minutes longer.” Which again brings us to a sort of Gandalfian place of “stay the course.”

We would all like to be part of those lucky generations who see turbulent times skip them by but those times are few and far between across the span of centuries. They are rare enough in fact to attract special notice. As Gibbon said, when writing his masterful Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire:

If a man were called to fix the period in the history of the world, during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous, he would, without hesitation, name that which elapsed from the death of Domitian to the accession of Commodus. The vast extent of the Roman empire was governed by absolute power, under the guidance of virtue and wisdom. The armies were restrained by the firm but gentle hand of four successive emperors, whose characters and authority commanded involuntary respect. The forms of the civil administration were carefully preserved by NervaTrajan,Hadrian, and the Antonines, who delighted in the image of liberty, and were pleased with considering themselves as the accountable ministers of the laws.

Kids, even if that’s true, even if Gibbon was right, that’s a whopping 84 years – barely a modern lifetime.

We can’t all live in Golden Ages, obviously. Most of us can’t. We’re not.

Which takes us back to the question of “what do you do?” Some people rushed to do their duty during the Civil War while others skedaddled to Canada, a popular move during the Vietnam War as well. Much is made of the “Greatest Generation” but not all of them were so great either.

There have always been those who like George W. Bush or Mitt Romney, skedaddled.

Lord of the Rings is a good story because it is about a small but brave band that decided skedaddling was not for them, a group that, unlike Bush and Romney, did not believe they should send others to do what they were not themselves willing to do. That is an element in all heroic fiction and in all heroic ages of the world. Who wants to read about those who didn’t have the courage of their convictions?

So happy with our lot or not, as Gandalf says, we have to decide what to do with the time that is given us. Or, to put it another way, to decide each day to be a good person, to show bravery and steadfastness to evil’s despairing face. It’s that or curl up in a hole and hide there till you die, and I don’t want to be remembered for that. I’m sure you don’t either. In the end, I think, as with courage, better a surfeit of optimism than a lack.

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Updated 9:41am with Eisenhower quote

16 Replies to “The GOP and the Limits of Positive Thinking”

  1. Notice how quiet the GOP and particularly Santorum are keeping a low profile on the Sandusky case?
    When are they going to explore the Sanrorum links?

  2. I read about five sets of Lord of the Rings till they fell apart, and I’m working on shredding a sixth like that. You have most eloquently stated why.

  3. For me its Asimovs Foundation and Empire series as well as Phillip Jose Farmers Riverworld series. Both sci fi of course

  4. “…It can happen; every culture and society has people like that…”

    It’s not anyone’s fault that the GOP’ers have taken the low road. They’re travels take them down the roads of the seedy underground amongst the marginalized cretins who have always anchored sex and violence into cognitive dissonance mind games. It is the only way they can “win” at life–they never get the girl or the fancy toys without convincing someone that they’re an honest broker by lying. Then, when they wreck and destroy everything, desperation sinks in, as in, “uh-ohhhh…”. Once again, they take the low road; they pack their bags and start relying on some god or another to get them out of the carnage or pray they don’t get caught.

    Right now, they’re battle plans appear infallible, but, their blatant lack of courage and is so visible (or invisible since the sky-god is not cooperating with them), that they forget the childhood rhyme, “All the kings horses and all the kings men couldn’t put Old Humpty back together again…” Their own greed will topple them and the sky-god will once again forsake them.

    Sigh…why don’t they just put all that energy into get a good education?

  5. You mean, sort of like that moment in “Dinner for Schmucks” when the hoax is up, the mask is torn off and you get to see the “real” idiot(s)?

    (if you haven’t seen it, it’s good medicine, Hraf. I am no fan of the “rom-coms”, but this is more about other relationships than the good guy/girl getting the one they love in the end).

  6. For me, besides LOTR, there is S.M. Stirling’s Emberverse, David Weber’s Honorverse and George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire – these have all earned multiple reads from yours truly

  7. What Patrick Henry said was, “Know the worst and prepare for it”, not, “Know the worst and give up”. The deliberate ugliness of the Right Wing may well be the result of the same calculation Hitler used. When he marched into the Rhineland, he got the idea that the League members were easily intimidated, and therefore, he took care that they had an exaggerated idea of his might when he forced the Austrian Anschluss and then bullied and blandished England and France into forcing Czechoslovakia to surrender without a fight. He was not nearly as invincible, at that moment, as he projected; oddly, when he assailed Poland, he was, yet that was when the Allies chose to declare war. France, in effect, did not fight; they did nothing until the Western offensive, and then it was too late. Similarly, Belgium and Holland did not mobilize and declared their neutrality, and they were crushed along with France. Why? Because, by believing the representations of Hitler’s invincibility before they were true, they made them come true.

    We have been subjected to almost twelve unbroken years of the same psychological propaganda by our own Right Wing…and whatever cartel is behind them. They have demonstrated the ruthlessness of their regimes in places like Wisconsin and Michigan. Their religious wing intimidates educational and entertainment media into parroting their line, and the presstitutes, even when not a part of the cabal, are so frightened of the “librul media” meme that when sane people say the Earth is round and Barton (say) says it’s flat, the pundates will allow as how most say it’s round, some say it’s flat, and it might be biscuit- shaped. They even send dreary copypasta trolls to fora like this one, and sometimes far more vicious ones from Moonfront Republic, just to prove there is noplace they can’t invade.

    If we were indeed fighting a wholly losing battle at this time, as has been true in the past of everyone from the Münchener Post to the Warsaw Ghetto to the pro-democracy Chileans of 1973, it would still be our duty to soldier on, because it is only so that some spark from the extinguished light of the past is preserved to ignite a torch to light up the future. Yet it was Gandalf, if memory serves me, who said that, great though the might of Sauron is, it is not so great as fear makes it. Denethor killed himself because he was deceived by fear. Let us not do likewise.

  8. I know Santorum was long a supporter of the “charity” that supplied Sandusky with fresh victims; yet, as odious as I find him, I would need good evidence to conclude he was not merely deceived.

  9. How did I come up with a typo like “pundate”? It sounds like a useful portmanteau of some kind, though.

  10. Hraf, you summed up my sentiments precisely…as usual. I, like you, refuse to curl up and wait to die, but I’m not yet disciplined enough to walk away with a good book and clear my mind. I wish I could because the outrage and despair is eating away at what little bit of sanity and optimism I have left. On the other hand, we do have an outlet to share our hopes for something better than what we’ve been left with and for that, I am optimistic and eternally grateful.

  11. That is true. It is this and two or three other Stammtischen that help preserve my sanity, and I believe that is true for many others besides.

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