Waltz: Party conventions end quiet before the November storm
Sommerloch – the word my Waltz family German ancestors applied to that fading end-of-summer quiet(er) period, translated literally as “summer hole” – is upon us.
The lull before the storm.
But quite a storm it will be this fall, even without precedent, with Delaware’s own “favorite son” Joe Biden set in a unique pandemic universe campaign to challenge an intensely popular (in some quarters) albeit lightning rod (in other quarters) President Donald Trump.
Party nominating conventions – to the delight of those of us in “the political class” – the last two weeks shattered the Sommerloch quite nicely. I didn’t miss a minute of them. My wife couldn’t wait to get out of the room when they came on.
The Germans, who have given us so many colorful and descriptive words, have another great one for the kind of moments the last two weeks produced for “the political class.”
Schadenfreude means “deriving pleasure from another person’s pain or failure,” an emotion many Republicans felt watching the Democrats, or that many Democrats felt watching the Republicans.
I’ve always said each of us should take and remember one thing from every graduate course we ever have taken.
A third German word, Weltanschauung, meaning “worldview,” came from my doctoral studies under former University of Delaware provost Dan Rich (45 years ago a young professor) of Max Weber, “the German sociologist, philosopher, jurist, and political economist, widely regarded today as one of the most important theorists on the development of modern Western society.”
Worldview is defined as “the fundamental cognitive orientation of an individual or society encompassing the whole of the individual’s or society’s knowledge and point of view. A worldview can include natural philosophy; fundamental, existential, and normative postulates; or themes, values, emotions, and ethics.”
Citizens of our country once tended to largely share a Weltanschauung, a frontier ethos of rugged individualism that was shaped around a variety of founders’ values for individual sovereignty, tightly constrained sovereignty for limited government, preference for local government as “closer to the people,” antipathy for big federal government and its power to compel (except in crisis of economy or war), civil rights including our Bill of Rights, and the mobility – yes, upward as well as downward – of our free enterprise system, with strong borders against invasion and a strong military to protect us all.
The cornerstone of all this was freedom, the freedom to succeed and achieve. And the freedom to fail.
Yes, there was a safety net, one provided by charity, as “acts of love” by neighbor to neighbor, based on merit and need. People who knew the people they were helping, rather than distant creation of taxpayer-funded entitlements. Service organizations from ethnic groups, religious groups (like the Catholic Church) and fraternal groups (like the Freemasons) were the backbones of that charity, “doing right by doing good” in non-conscripted giving.
Today, America has arrived at terribly disparate views of the kind of society its citizens want, unseen since the Civil War divided America between the rapidly declining proponents of “that peculiar institution” (as Abraham Lincoln called slavery) and increasing numbers of abolitionists.
The country has not faced such recent political division like this since the 1930s. World War I fatigue fueled a robust isolationist movement – led by people like famed aviation pioneer Charles Lindbergh and Ohio U.S. Sen. Robert Taft – that America should remain an island of neutrality and stay out of Europe’s border-shattering contentions, including the growing Holocaust.
All that occurred, too, amidst a growing and naive American idealistic interest by political, social and entertainment elites in Marxist socialism. It was reinforced by the pain and dislocation of the Depression and seeded by President Franklin Roosevelt’s recovery plans that were premised on an unprecedented federal role, including confiscation of earned resources and redistribution to the needy.
America’s long post-World War II evolution to a more progressive society is characterized by a stronger federal government, increased entitlements like Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare (for which I helped carry petitions in the early 1960s as a young teen).
At the same time, America during the Cold War of the 1950s to 1980s broadly rejected Marxism labelled then as communism. More than 10 million of us were in uniform during the 1960-75 Vietnam War era, offering our lives in the fight against the Marxist threat that had threatened, “We will bury you!”
Today, Marxism – relabeled from communism to democratic socialism – has reared its head again, as it did in the 1930s, attracting adherents who did not enjoy the political gravitas then to make meaningful change. The perennially emerging next generations just could not get over the possibilities offered in the ideas of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. And they’ve deployed the politics of anarchy, chaos, destruction, and looting – excused by generations of class sin – as the tools in their tool kit, alongside the ballot box.
The difference today is that, thanks to the inflection points of political empowerment that came to a head in the 1968 and 1972 party nomination conventions and processes, the dissident emerging next-gen citizens are empowered at altogether different levels of political and media influence.
For the first time in nearly a century, a full-throated battle for the proverbial “soul of America” is on the horizon, fueled by the growth of the progressive movement and the sins of the past, as well as the shortcomings attributed to the Weltanschauung of recent generations of political leaders.
If the stakes were not so high, it could almost be interesting to watch.
Sam Waltz is publisher emeritus of the Delaware Business Times.