“It is too difficult to think nobly when one thinks only of earning a living.”
– Jean-Jacques Rousseau
“It is engraved in my memory that Stalin used the term Russia, and not Soviet Union, which meant that he was not only inspiring Russian nationalism but was himself inspired by it and identified himself with it. There were also anecdotes. Stalin liked one in particular which I told. A Turk and a Montenegrin were talking during a rare moment of truce. The Turk wondered why the Montenegrins constantly waged war. ‘For plunder,’ the Montenegrin replied. ‘We are poor and hope to get some booty. And what are you fighting for?’ ‘For honor and glory,’ replied the Turk. To which the Montenegrin rejoined, ‘Everyone fights for what he doesn’t have.’ Stalin commented, roaring: ‘By God, that’s deep: everyone fights for what he doesn’t have.’”
– Milovan Djilas, “Conversations With Stalin,”1962
“…power over human beings is attainable by other means than by money.”
– John Ruskin
“…history will not judge merely the governments or military authorities of the Allied countries. History will judge the countries themselves; history will judge the people of those countries. And history will certainly judge the most august representative body [the U.S. Senate] of the richest of those countries—the United States. To my knowledge, America has never known any enemy children. I refuse now to indict the American conscience as being anything but revolted by the actual fact that millions upon millions of the helpless, of the sick, of the innocent, from infants to the aged, are now suffering the tortures of the damned…”
– Senator William Langer (R-ND), March 29, 1946, “The Congressional Record”
“It was he [Pericles] who led them, rather than they who led him, and since he never sought power from any wrong motive, he was under no necessity of flattering them…But his successors, who were more on a level with each other and each of whom aimed at occupying the first place, adopted methods of demagogy which resulted in their losing control over the actual conduct of affairs…And in the end it was only because they [the Athenians] had destroyed themselves by their own internal strife that finally they were forced to surrender.”
– Thucydides, “The Peloponnesian War”
Racism is one of the world’s oldest rackets. So are misogyny and religious bigotry. If Hollywood wanted to do a remake of a James Bond thriller with the 2016 U.S. Presidential election in mind, they could call it “From Russia With Hate.”
However, as rhetorical weapons, hatreds harnessed to political passions, are powerful tools in the arsenal of the dishonorable and unscrupulous, malefactors of great wealth and power.
Those who have the stomach for it, are seeing the fruits of such successfully employed weaponry play out in televised U.S. Senate hearings on President-Elect Donald Trump’s nominees for his cabinet. Two key nominees are Rex Tillerson, Exxon/Mobil kingpin, and Vladimir Putin’s chief advocate for “drill baby drill” policies in Russia, for Secretary of State, and Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), a steadfast denier of America’s racial climate change in the past 50 years, for Attorney General.
Each Senate Committee is composed to favor the Majority Party (in 2017, the Republicans) by one vote in a straight Party vote. Thus, Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, deciding the fate of Rex Tillerson, could recoup a small measure of honor for his Party and himself, by voting with the Democrats to reject Mr. Tillerson’s nomination. Such a rejection would be a loud rebuttal of the shameful business of knee jerk worshiping of corporate power, by simply voting Senator Rubio’s publicly declared conscience on the fate of human rights in nations adversely affected by “Big Oil.”
Likewise on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) could join with the Democrats to deny confirmation to Senator Sessions. Such a rejection of a fellow Senator would be big news, indeed, and by no means popular within his Party. But such an upright act would also be rejecting the shameful business of catering to organized bigotry that is the hallmark of Senator Sessions’ career, Tea Party Republicans and the successful candidacy of President-Elect Donald Trump.
One prominent member of the Republican Party has already gone much further than what would be required of a Senator Rubio or Graham. Former House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) chose “political death” over dishonor, when he stepped down from the post and opted not to run for reelection in 2016, an election he surely could have won in Republican southwest Ohio.
Speaker Boehner’s behavior, in a very small way, is reminiscent of a Republican Senator, William Langer of North Dakota, who defied Senate leadership in both political parties on a regular basis from 1941-1959, in defense of civil liberties, civil rights, and economic justice for the least among us.
Senator Langer served on both the Senate Foreign Relations and Judiciary Committees. While on the latter, in 1948, he held up the Selective Service Act because the U.S. Army was NOT integrated. During World War II, he advocated a homeland for Jews in Palestine, in a Congress dominated by anti-Semitism. As his Democratic Senate Colleague, Russell Long of Louisiana, put it:
“Bill Langer had great courage. Often he was the only one to vote against measures which at the time were very popular. Many of us have lived to see that his judgment on some of those occasions was much more correct that the public was willing to admit at that time.”
William Langer, a true maverick Republican from America’s colonial outback on the Northern Plains, was misunderstood in his time precisely because he never wavered in defense of social and economic justice. If he were to appear today as a “Ghost of Honesty Past,” a contemporary Diogenes, searching with a giant flashlight for an honest and courageous man or woman in the ranks of the FBI, or of the Republican Party in Congress, would he find one?
That’s up to the likes of Senators Rubio, Graham, John McCain (R-AZ), Chuck Grassley(R-IA), and Richard Burr(R-NC). May the fictional “force,” and factual honor, honesty, and courage be with them!