I love reading books on current events -- but I love it when the books were written years before, even decades. It gives them a perspective when reading them today that wouldn't have existed at the time, and without the filter of the present. For instance I recall reading a book several years ago about Washington that have been written 25 years earlier, and it had some noble quotes from a Congressman about the responsibility the White House has in dealing truthfully with the public. The then-Congressman was Dick Cheney. Last year, I was reading a book about golf that had been written 10-15 years ago. One of the golfers was talking about a couple pro-am tournaments he'd been in with a public figure, and he was scathing in his comments about his amateur partner, who was Donald Trump. Those words couldn't be dismissed for any political bias -- they were said a long time before, when Trump was a relatively minor figure.
Such things occasionally happen in the world of fiction, though it's of course a totally different matter. But sometimes you do read a passage written long ago that has spot-on resonance to today.
I'm almost finished reading a novel by James Michener, conveniently titled, The Novel, one of his later works written in 1991. Over the weekend, I read this passage that was written 27 years ago. One of the main characters from the Pennsylvania Dutch country is traveling in Greece with a British literary scholar. As they visit the ancient location of Sparta, the professor talks about how powerful the Spartans had been. "All decisions were made by military juntas. Best armies in the world, conquerors of everything. And in the end the dictatorship strangled itself, because free men can always best a tyranny -- not defeat it, outlast it." The two men then wander around, exploring the area, coming upon the ruins of buildings, none of them showing the grandeur of Greece or even the successes of the Spartan military. Just the destroyed remains. And then the professor made a further observation --
"When I was in the United States I had the mournful feeling that eighty percent of your people would welcome a Spartan dictatorship if it promised to improve the schools, discipline the minorities, put women back in their place, install a religious supremacy and terminate the silliness of the Bill of Rights. Many modern Americans would leap at such an offer, it seemed to me, which is why I wanted you to see Sparta. Because what you see here is what such a choice always leads to."
Fortunately, Michener had his percentage wrong. Unfortunately, he was uncannily and eerily spot on about the rest, including his subsequent observation of "Many" Americans today.
And anyone who questions the description of the Trump administration as being Fascist, the words he describes of a military dictatorship are precisely that. And are difficult to separate what the White House is promoting.
Yes, it's fiction. Written by a man who wrote about history -- in both fiction and non-fiction -- for half a century. And understood it very well.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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