155 years ago today in the front parlor of Wilmer McLean’s home in Appomattox Court House, Virginia, a nattily attired Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to the commander of all Union armies, mud-splattered Ulysses S. Grant.
Lest there be any doubt, Grant was the genuine military genius of the two. Grant saw the whole of the strategic picture and effectively used the resources at his disposal, applying them remorselessly along the pathway to an outcome he foresaw quite clearly.
Grant was not without flaws as a human being, but he was mercifully immune from self-aggrandizing bull’s excrement. Tellingly, if reincarnated in 2020, Grant wouldn’t have a chance whatsoever of making a difference.
McLean, a wholesale grocer by trade, lived in Manassas until Bull Run, the Civil War’s first great battle in 1861. McLean’s house was used as headquarters by the rebel commander General Beauregard and damaged during the fighting, so subsequently he moved his family 120 miles west to a place he reasoned would be safer.
It was, right up until it wasn’t. Immediately upon the conclusion of the surrender conference, Union officers denuded the parlor in short order, pressing money into McLean’s hand (hundreds of dollars, in fact) as they carted away tables, chairs and bric-a-brac as souvenirs.
McLean moved away after the war, unable or unwilling to capitalize on his house’s singular legacy by converting it into a roadside tourist trap. Maybe this was because no “authentic” furniture remained, or more likely, owing to the hostility of defeated Virginians toward northern visitors.
Shortly thereafter, the utter fabrication of “Lost Cause” mythology provided the necessary value in memoriam, although too late for McLean. It is alleged that McLean conjured one quotable observation from his personal Civil War: “The war began in my front yard and ended in my front parlor.”
Today he’d be on all the late night shows and probably practice punditry on one or more of the news channels.
Meanwhile, a distinctive feature of that first Battle of Bull Run in 1861 was the crowd of groupies it attracted.
Union troops bound for certain glory were accompanied on their march toward the enemy positions by wagon loads of Washington picnickers, sure of a wonderful day in the countryside watching their favorites dispense with the confederates. It all came to a premature and unpleasant end when the visiting team was ignominiously routed, sweeping the party goers along with them, straight back to the safety of the capital’s fledgling fortifications.
The victors were content to snack on the leftovers.
Indeed, war is hell, and the scene in 1861 reminds me that so are most of the elections of our lives in postwar L’America. The COVID-plagued primary in Wisconsin earlier this week was merely an extreme example of the norm. Chads are left hanging, voting is suppressed, courts are rigged; the pillage of oligarchs and evangelists proceeds as we binge-watch dystopian drama.
Like those hangers-on making for Manassas with their watercress sandwiches and cider, we keep coming to the polls in our dashing finery, hoping for a miracle of political intelligibility — outright statesmanship obviously lies beyond the pale — and if we’re lucky the reward is dull, plodding mediocrity, but usually our reward is garish spectacle at the expense of substance, the sheer underachievement fixed as if by constitutional mandate.
Paraphrasing H.L. Mencken, we get exactly what we vote for — good and hard. Not unlike Joseph Robinette Biden Jr., we pay our money, take our chances and spin the DemoDisneyDixiecratic wheel of ill fortune … and every second Sunday, Biden remembers exactly how many grandchildren he has.
That’ll show those horrid Bernie Bros; Sanders is out, and my new “choice” is Biden’s dementia versus Donald Trump’s depravity.
Red or blue?
I say: #VoteEwwNoMatterWho.
“In reality (Bernie Sanders’ campaign) it gave voice to the voiceless, raised people’s sense of what’s possible through collective action, and refused to accept that exploitation and the fear of economic devastation should be the lot of millions.”
Ah, of course the soulless right-of-center “Democrats” have their answer at the ready: it’s all about being realistic, or at least as it pertains to their selective, generally white-washed version of reality.
That nasty too-damn-left Bernie was selling a bill of make-believe goods to the guileless youth, the wooly radicals, the blue-wing’s version of numb-Trump-skulls; those naïve neophytes just need to abandon their idiotic hopes and dreams, get realistic and embrace reality.
As if their lives weren’t realistic enough already.
And what exactly is being realistic in this context? It’s beating Trump, of course, even if every other office in the country from Senate to dogcatcher remains in Republican hands, just so long as we have no ambition grander than assuring money and power remain the exclusive province of two political parties, each taking their turn suckling the teat.
When the centrists wag their finger at me and pontificate about shutting up and accepting what’s realistic, it kills me as dead as Sullivan Ballou, a Union officer who lost his life at Bull Run.
I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter. I know how strongly American Civilization now leans on the triumph of the Government and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and sufferings of the Revolution. And I am willing — perfectly willing — to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this Government, and to pay that debt …
Yes; that was different. We could debate the remainder of the pandemic about the specific circumstances of Ballou’s death as a soldier, and how they vary substantively from those of a voter in the 2020 presidential election, but to me the divergence is striking in terms of the concept of sacrifice.
Ballou was willing to make one. Most of the purported Democratic centrists dispensing holy writ about reality aren’t.
If they were, they’d not be so flippant about everyday REALITY on the part of the voiceless, who have seen in the Sanders campaign the possibility (reiterating) “of collective action, and refuse to accept that exploitation and the fear of economic devastation should be the lot of millions.”
They’d not be supporting the prevailing kakistocratic, catastrophic socio-economic “realities” with their wallets, every single day, only pausing from the endless consumerism when it’s time to denounce what Republicans are doing to wreck the system, although most of the “opposition” is as fully invested in its disproportionate excess as the MAGAtites.
When are any of the faux “left” centrists going to risk any aspect of their well-ordered existences, cease fluffing and buttressing the forces that oppress others more so than them, and make a sacrifice of any appreciable magnitude as a downpayment?
Be realistic, they repeat over and over like a mantra. Now’s not the time for pie in the sky, Roger.
Really? When the hell in human history has the time been “right” for aspiration?
How realistic was the Magna Carta, the Reformation, or our own American Revolution, even as imperfect as these milestones were?
How realistic was it to break the four-minute mile, to cure polio or route sewage underground rather than let it flow through ditches in the street?
How realistic was it for sensory-deprived Helen Keller to be an author, former slave George Washington Carver to be a scientist, or dirt-poor Abraham Lincoln to be president?
When are the centrists going to withhold assent from American-style injustice, go on strike, hit the streets — show some effing solidarity for something and someone else apart from their own scolding virtue-signaled ostentatiousness?
Sullivan Ballou? He actually stood FOR something.
Sarah my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me unresistibly on with all these chains to the battle field.
Listen up, centrists. You’ve slain the Bernie dragon, now here’s the reality. If you want to be rid of the orange menace, it’s time to dismantle his habitat, and commence some adaptive reuse of your own decaying political worldviews.
Take your eyes off Red Bernie and listen to what he actually says … and observe who else has been listening to him. If learning is truly the objective, there’s a chance you might, and still be able to speak with people who are extremely disappointed in disgraceful timidity. You’re now being paternalistic with regard to the people who suffer most, when their preference is to DO SOMETHING.
Notice I wrote “speak with,” not “speak to.”
Our system has been made gloriously efficient for the haves, the accumulators of capital, and the hoarders of corporate profits, but it’s not resilient at all for ordinary human beings. The coronavirus is proving this abundantly, right now. It’s bigger than The Donald. Democrats are complicit in it as well. Shouldn’t one of the two political parties articulate a viable alternative in terms of programs and policies?
There’s yardage to be gained, and there’s no turning back to the halcyon days of Obama for the simple reason that they weren’t.
Sacrifice something, centrists — anything will do — and instead of blaming the phantasmagoric imagined Bernie Bros for your own distemper, muster the grace sufficient to credit those principled people on your left for having the hopes, dreams and cojones to be FOR something, rather than merely against, and who see power in the realism of good ideas, not capitulation to capitalism in the throes of cancer.
Ah, but I’m so forgetful. You centrists are going to need someone to blame if it doesn’t end well this November, and Bernie’s supporters can be so very easily scapegoated. After all, you’re already quite proficient at the practice.
Shaddup, already. Are we on strike yet?
March 12: ON THE AVENUES: Keep calm and carry on.