The old man looked me straight in the eye when I told him this country had never faced a crisis like the one posed by Donald Trump.
After a moment of reflection, the fellow nodded, acknowledging things looked mighty grim.
And then he startled me.
“I’ve seen worse,” the old codger said.
“I recollect when we were ready to blow the whole world to kingdom come. Around 1960, the Russians were moving nukes into Cuba and we said we’re going to war if you do that.
“Folks started building bomb shelters. People filled their basements with groceries and their bathtubs with water.
“Schools held drills where children were taught to hide under their desks and contemplate what life would be like as mushroom crowds rose over their neighborhoods, their homes blown apart and their parents burnt to a crisp. No telling how that messed with their little minds, but maybe that explains some things about how this country got so screwed up these past 60 years.”
I agreed those were bad times. But this is different. This time people within the country are fighting each other. You can hardly talk to a person without an argument erupting.
That thought caused the old man to smile.
“Let me tell you about the civil rights movement. Black people were marching and sprayed with fire hoses. Police set attack dogs on those poor people. And sometimes them civil rights folks were made to disappear. They were shot dead for trying to register black people to vote.
“Churches were set on fire with people inside them.
“As all this stuff was going on, President Kennedy was assassinated, Martin Luther King Jr. was shot dead and Robert F. Kennedy was murdered while campaigning for president.
“Entire neighborhoods were going up in flames as angry mobs ran through the streets.
“If that wasn’t enough, there was the Vietnam War,” the old man continued. “Young folks were being drafted to fight for their country and refusing to go. Their fathers, who had fought in W.W. II , told them it was their duty. Families across the country were divided.
“College students were being shot by government troops for demonstrating against the war or just being near a demonstration. Radical groups were shooting cops and robbing banks.
“And if that wasn’t enough, women were burning their bras. May not mean much to folks these days, but that caused all sorts of anguish among a certain class of men when I was young.”
Well, at least back then the government could be trusted.
“You must have memory problems,” the old codger said. “Police departments created special units that operated in secret to disrupt civil rights and anti-war protests.
“The FBI spied on everyone and created files on people they didn’t like so they could destroy their reputations.
“The president of the United States orchestrated dirty tricks out of the White House to discredit the Democratic candidates running against him and put together an ‘enemies list’ of reporters and critics. Watergate and the hearings that followed nearly destroyed this country’s faith in democracy.”
How did the nation recover? How did we all come together after that?
The face of the old man stared back at me in the mirror. He seemed lost.
He had lived through all of that stuff and more. There was the terrorist attack on Sept. 11. The Great Recession a few years later. A nation, on the brink of disaster, came together and battled back from it all.
So maybe, the old codger was telling me, there is always hope, even in the darkest of hours, even in the Time of Trump.
The fellow on the other side of that mirror wasn’t really buying it. But he was trying. Really hard.
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