Lessons from Gettysburg

Sep 15, 2019 Randy Tucker

Maybe I should just stop going to the Gettysburg National Battlefield. Last Saturday, I made my third trip to this hallowed ground, a symbol of the insanity that can occasionally overwhelm otherwise sentient, thoughtful Americans.

The first visit came in 1980. I was a recent college graduate, full of hope, youthful ignorance, and the thought that I could change the world if given enough time. The second was 28 years later, in 2008. My youthful innocence was long gone, but I was still idealistic enough to believe in change, the good of man and the proud heritage that was ours as Americans.

That idealism was sorely tested on my visit last week.

The battlefield had not changed. The monuments, the geographic advantage and disadvantage available to the Army of Northern Virginia under Robert E. Lee and the combined forces of dozens of state regiments under the command of George Gordon Meade for the Union was still palpable. History is a real, vibrant entity at place of honor and sacrifice like Gettysburg.

A thought hit me as we left the battlefield and traveled across rural and central Pennsylvania later that day.

The preponderance of Confederate Battle Flags on nearly every stretch of two-lane highway made me think that a southern invasion these days would be welcomed with open arms.

The Trump flags, posters, signs and bumper stickers were omnipresent.

At Blairsville we stopped at a roadside flea market. I've always been a fan of those. I enjoy the raw mercantilism in the bartering and the give and take of most transactions, but this one was different.

Among the hundreds of vendors and thousands of people in attendance there was not a single person of color.

There were more Rebel flags, Make America Great paraphernalia, and Trump 2020 signs in the crowd than there were teeth.

These were poor, desperate people, call them Trump's voting base if you will, but somewhere in the fabric that bonds America into one, these people were left out.

Many were limping with canes and crutches, others traveled via used motorized scooters that had seen better days long ago, and the prevalence of cigarette smoke and vaping left a low-hanging cloud over many of the vendor booths.

These people drank the Kool-Aid. They were true believers in the revolution. If they thought about it at all, they truly believed that giving billionaires a $1.7 trillion tax break would make their lives better. It obviously had not. These were people on the edge of society, but they clung to the hope of better lives through guns, God and right-wing rhetoric. It was a sad image on the stage of American history. (By the way, I own multiple guns, and I was a congregational council member at my church for many years.)

Many offered signs, flags and posters dedicated to fighting the government, gun rights above all else, and anti Obama and Hillary products were everywhere.

What these people and all the proponents of arming regular citizens with military style weapons don't understand is just who they would be fighting in the event of a nationwide uprising.

The same people proudly displayed "Support the Troops" and "We Support the Police" signs all around their booths.

Did they realize that their assault weapons wouldn't be shooting Nancy Pelosi, Barack Obama and Joe Biden followers, but the very soldiers and police officers they purported to support?

The irony was so thick you could almost see it floating around them.

Maybe it was an over-reaction on my part. After walking the grounds of the greatest battle ever fought on American soil the day before, a battle with 51,000 American casualties, suffered in just three days of fighting, the end result of extremist views were very real.

These people were desperate enough to start shooting if their leader told them to do it. They obviously had little or in some cases, nothing to lose.

The messages of hate, discontent and division spewing daily from the White House do nothing to bring the nation back together, and everything to try to make listeners believe it is immigrants, other religions and universal health care that is destroying their lives, rather than the wealthy elite that openly despise them.

You have to give credit where credit is due. Fox News and the Trump administration have done an amazing job of convincing the working class that the poor are the reason they can't make ends meet, can't afford health insurance, and that the future for their children is hopelessly bleak.

When McConnell, Barrasso and the other Republicans introduce legislation to end Medicare and Social Security after the 2020 election, these hopeless elements will probably hail it as progress, cheering the very act that makes their desperate existence even more difficult.

Perhaps in the minds of the people on the edge, selling used and broken items just to survive, there is a nobility in their support of the claims of "Making America Great Again." But, it is a broken promise, devoid of the any of nobility they might see in the "lost cause" that was the Confederacy.

Blaming minorities, immigrants and others in worse situations than your own while supporting those who prey on you is a zero-sum game. A similar game killed more 650,000 Americans a century-and-a-half ago. Who knows what might ignite again if we don't pay attention.

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