In the last edition of letters to the editor, Larry Benson said some of the most welcome words I have ever read in your newspaper. (Larry Benson: “The dumbing down of America”) I read them with great joy, having just finished a book by Carl Sagan titled “The Demon-Haunted World” where he discusses in detail the very problem of our poorly educated public. It is obvious that Sagan’s premonition of our downfall is coming to fruition as Mr. Benson warned.
In connection I also recently finished two books of history, “Seven Events that Made America America” by Larry Schweikart, and “Out of Order” by former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. I was surprised in finding our present political situation not to be novel or without historical precedent.
Thomas Jefferson and his presidential opponent Aaron Burr both hired editorial writers to compose scurrilous charges, misinformation and disinformation for newspapers they controlled. One of most famous of those writers, James Callender, wrote for both sides until he claimed Jefferson did not pay him enough.
Nearly all the newspapers of the time were partisan, as much of our network television and internet traffic is today. The difference is we don’t see the authors being directly paid by the parties because much of it is written for free by party supporters.
Aaron Burr was a scoundrel and a wannabe dictator. When Jefferson finally won the contested election in the House, Burr went on to win the duel killing Alexander Hamilton, and then fled to the West hoping to start a revolution in Mexico. He was tried more than once for treason against the U.S. but was acquitted each time. Sound familiar?
The parallels do not end there. The fact that such a horrible politician as Aaron Burr achieved a vote total equal to Thomas Jefferson says a great deal about how close an autocratic past politician came to a near takeover of the government. What we are seeing today is not new, not without precedent, and we are coming close once again to losing our democracy to those who claim to be saving it. Let’s hope their autocratic wishes fail again.
Going further, let us hope and pray that our new administration can reverse our course as a nation by supporting American innovations and keeping jobs here, taking away the horrendous debt burdens our college students are saddled with, improving and funding our secondary educational institutions, and repairing our bridges, highways, and other infrastructures.
If these can be achieved, then hopefully the prophesy of Carl Sagan and Mr. Benson will be put in check and reversed.