I don’t know about your August, but mine has been weird, swinging from high to low and back again.
Over seven days backpacking and climbing in the Seven Devils wilderness, and then three more in the Pioneers, acquaintances became friends. You bond quickly when you’re fetching and filtering water for each other and sharing advice on catholes. I got to luxuriate on the soft turf at Sheep Lake, and stand atop He Devil and Old Hyndman Peak.
But at the same time, we witnessed the horror of Charlottesville. We have the continuing fight over whether and how to express outrage over such hate and violence. We had Congressman Raul Labrador absurdly suggest that BSU President Bob Kustra was too white and too Chicagoan to express an opinion about racism in Idaho (and about Labrador).
In North Idaho, Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, attacked the reliable Betsy Russell for reporting on Scott’s Facebook post that parsed the term “white nationalism.” And in Idaho Falls, Rep. Bryan Zollinger shared a post and said it was plausible that Charlottesville was a set-up hatched by liberals like Barack Obama to embarrass Trump.
President Trump delivered a speech in Arizona in which he said that journalists are crooked and dishonest. Plus, he talked about raining “fire and fury” on North Korea.
Ominous echoes, this racist violence and talk of nuclear war. Growing up in the 1960s and ’70s, I felt the threat of nuclear war every day. Duck and cover was not a meme; it was a school drill. In eastern Oregon, we lived with the very real fear that Russian missiles might already be in the air, headed to Hanford, Wash., or the nerve-gas depot near Boardman.
In today’s consuming, 24-hour news world, we forget that previous generations lived through their own dark times. Just in my lifetime, we’ve had one president assassinated and another gravely injured by a would-be assassin. We’ve had a presidential candidate murdered. Our pre-eminent civil rights leader was gunned down for peacefully demanding equality. Society was riven by the Vietnam War. Students were killed by the military for protesting at Kent State. A president resigned in the face of impeachment for crimes and cover-ups. We’ve been bitterly divided before.
Long, lonely Idaho trails are good places for thinking. I’ve had a lot of time for thinking.
All that was on my mind when our editorial board visited with Congressman Mike Simpson, chatting about health care reform and tax reform, and new highways and water systems. It felt naive to me, because I have no faith that Congress can get any of that done. I asked Simpson how he can be so calm when the system seems so broken. He challenged the premise of my question.
“It actually is working,” he said. The evidence is that the Congress won’t roll over for President Trump, he said. It won’t allow an “imperial presidency.”
“I think our Founding Fathers set this up in anticipation of a president that tried to be an imperial president,” he said. “The system was set up to be preserved in those kinds of times. And I’m optimistic about the future. (The) pendulum swings back and forth.”
He said having the president challenge Congress on its priorities and spending “is a healthy thing. I just don’t think all the name-calling and the tweeting and the bull is helpful … and I think it’s dividing our country even further.”
I understand the principle: Government isn’t supposed to be efficient. It moves haltingly. That’s to guard against wild swings, and the passions of the moment. If we can’t find common ground and compromise, our government can’t get much done. That’s by design.
“It’s supposed to be tough and ugly,” said Simpson. “We get together, we elect people to represent us. If we disagree with them we elect new people. We don’t grab guns and go out in the streets and have a revolt, and the Army doesn’t go crazy and overthrow the president and install a new dictator.”
I’d like to share Simpson’s optimism. I’ve seen the pendulum swing, and know it will again when enough people get fed up with gridlock and hyper-partisanship. And I take comfort that in the meantime, I can lace up my boots and work out my frustrations on Idaho mountain trails, or climb through boulder fields in search of a better view.