In Praise of the Harding EraThis passage was written in 1948.
It has been much in style in the United States, since around 1939, to praise the democracies of the world and especially our own. Strong men have become tearful and their voices have broken with emotion as they reflected, aloud and often too loud, that we are a nation in which any man may become President, that we achieve our laws by discussion, and that the rights of our minorities are often respected. These ponderous and occasionally strident writers and radio orators have sounded as if they had only then discovered what a truly wonderful place is the United States of America; and I shoud like to reiterate what I have said elsewhere about this tub-thumping.
All of this shouting has left some of us rather calm and collected, and quite uninterested, for some of us have never since birth thought otherwise than that our country, for all its imperfections, was the finest place on earth. I have never been able to read far in any of the many books written by Americans these past few years which would tell me of the boons of American democracy, nor to finish any of the many magazine and newspaper articles that would tell me the same thing. I have as much need of inspirational reading, or listening, about American democracy as I have of a book that will tell me the Sun rises in the morning and sets in the evening.
These special pleaders for America, it seems to me, have merely been doing some second-guessing and are in a great sweat to put down on paper, or to charge the air waves with, statements of things that were obvious truths to many of us when we were ten years of age. We did not have to learn them, either, for we drank them in with the air we breathed, and have since never had cause to doubt them, not for a moment, not even during the administrations of Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover.
I suspect that many of these suddenly patriotic pleaders for democracy must at some time have lost faith in the Republic, or had never understood it anyway; and, like repentant sinners at a revival, hurried down the sawdust path, to stand at the testimonial bench and give cry to their conversion and salvation. In no other way can I understand the vehemence, the authoritative manner, and the curious and to me pathetic naivete with which they stress the marvels and glories of democracy as practiced in the United States.
It seems to me that one need know only the trials through which our country has successfully passed to believe it so basically stout and secure that only the wear of centuries and the evolutionary forces of time can lay it low. A nation comes through its every trial either weaker or stronger for the experience. Up the present writing I believe the United States has emerged from every crisis with increased national intelligence and ability to operate a vast and complex nation in a fairly competent manner. And if that is true, then it is enough.
That is why I believe the administration of Warren G. Harding to have been one of the most valuable the Republic has ever had. It demonstrated our strength as a nation, our lasting qualities, in a manner that left no doubt. If we American could live through that period, and those of Coolidge and Hoover, including the long horror of Prohibition - if we could pass through those trials and find our system still workable, then he is a skeptic indeed who doubts that the United States continues to have a future.
[Lost Men of American History, Stewart H. Holbrook (free internet download!)]
Today I would add the horrors of McCarthyism and the administration of George W. Bush as trials that our nation has weathered... tho' the case for weathering W has yet to be concluded!
Still - the stridency of O'Reilly, Beck, Limbaugh... all are well-characterized in this brief passage, as the rantings of second-guessers and repentant sinners who, in their heart of hearts, don't quite believe in America.
[Perhaps, twenty years hence - if I'm still around - I'll write a chapter, "In Praise of the W Administration" - yes, folks, we survived W - we can survive anything!]