“Iceberg right ahead!” – Lookout Frederick Fleet, April 14, 1912, Atlantic Ocean
“This is what you’ve gotten guys!” – Republican Senator Mitt Romney, January 6, 2021, to his GOP colleagues in Washington
Instead of another rehash of the assault on one of the most hallowed buildings in our nation last week by thieves, vandals, malcontents, and insurrectionists, I would like to take you back to what must seem like familiar — if watery — terrain for faithful readers by now.
Democracy — as the Titanic proved to be — is, at its heart, a fragile thing. We have learned in the past few days that it is always vulnerable to ideological icebergs lurking in its path. The trick is seeing them in time.
Titanic was, in many ways, a microcosm of a capitalist and class-structured society. Within the confines of its nearly 900-foot length, the working class crew ministered to the whims of the fabulously rich and the poor dreamed about the better life that awaited them in America.
It wasn’t all that different from the pecking order in 2021.
Titanic was even hailed as “unsinkable.” The White Star Line was so arrogantly confident in her imperviousness to assaults by the notoriously turbulent North Atlantic that the liner’s original design calling for 32 lifeboats was discarded in favor of only 20. Thirty-three percent of Titanic’s passengers and crew might be saved in an eventuality that no one believed could ever happen.
It wasn’t very different from our confidence that an ethically and morally bankrupt man could never be elected to the highest office in the land.
White Star believed that the smaller number of boats would cause less clutter. It is probably unnecessary to state that the Boat Deck was a first class area of the ship and God forbid that the rich should be inconvenienced by clutter. The steerage passengers were berthed far below. Symbolically and literally a world away.
For those of you who may be more familiar with what transpired after the fateful collision from the 1997 film, let me simply state that Rose always had a much better pedigree for surviving than poor Jack and it wasn’t just by virtue of her sex.
At 2:15 AM on the morning of April 15th, the last lifeboat had gone and there were hundreds of people still on the sinking vessel. Some of them, surprisingly enough, had elected to stay on board believing that their chances of being saved were much greater on the grand ocean liner than adrift in a 30-foot wooden boat on a frigid night.
Even the rats had waited too long to desert the ship, an observation that brings me to some other similarities between two historic tragedies.
We, like Captain Smith in 1912, had been warned long before the maelstrom on Jan. 6. Smith had received messages from other vessels informing him that he was fast approaching an area that contained ice. He, like millions of Americans over a century later, chose to disregard the portents of danger. How many outrages has our outgoing president been responsible for perpetrating? How many times did we choose to look the other way?
Any reports that what author Walter Lord called “a night to remember” was a shining example of the sacred maritime axiom of “women and children first” demonstrates a disregard for the truth. The rich were ensconced in their lavish suites with easy access to the lifeboats, while immigrants in their tiny cabins near the liner’s noisy stern section had to wend their way through labyrinthine corridors and up stairways onto the Boat Deck. More third class children died than first class men.
For far too long now, the rich in this nation have been situated next to the lifeboats. We have witnessed the planet being ravaged by corporate entities that care nothing for anything but profits. Our outgoing president has used his inherited wealth to intimidate, manipulate, and influence the judicial system, allowing him to get away with shady machinations that would have put most of us behind bars. The fact that he didn’t get away with overturning the election results probably instigated his dangerous and deadly incitement at the Washington Mall.
And tell me, what was really accomplished by the rioting? Beyond the shock value that is always an integral part of mindless violence, every petty tyrant and oppressive dictatorship in the world can sneer and point a finger at America’s accelerating disintegration. Another gift from our president to Mr. Putin.
I honestly don’t know what the future holds for America beyond the fact that we took a giant step forward last November despite the chaos and carnage that followed. My belief that this president is delusional and incompetent is as honestly held as the man with his feet up on Nancy Pelosi’s desk, who thinks that Trump is a great man.
It is difficult to believe that those twains will ever meet even if, somehow, they must.
People in a civilized society do not live on their own individual islands. In a democracy, that means concessions and adjustments have to be made even if they conflict with deeply felt personal convictions. After the 2016 elections, millions of Americans felt--as I did—that the nation couldn’t have made a worse choice to lead it. We hunkered down for what was to come not knowing then how bad it would ultimately be. Instead of rising to meet the responsibility and prestige of his office, the president brought the country down to the sub-basement level he always operated upon. But, we didn’t deliver ourselves in Halloween costumes howling discredited fabrications about stolen elections, destroying and desecrating a national landmark.
We have to find some footing in common ground if we are ever to attain what Ronald Reagan envisioned as a “shining city on a hill” because the alternative is a rusting hulk at the bottom of the sea.