By TOM HONIG
This tiny corner of the blogosphere has been quiet since April of 2014. I had decided that the din from social media and from cable television had drowned out the world of independent commentary, the kind in which the reader might not be able to predict what was about to be written or said.
Now it's 2019, and even though few will notice, I’ve decided to contribute a word or two again.
In the last five years, the noise has only increased. In that time, a blustering figure somehow found his way into the White House, and he’s taken what used to be described as the United States onto a wild ride of nastiness unimaginable just a generation ago.
Not that he deserves all the blame. A considerable amount, sure. But his allies and opponents decided to match his fictional ramblings with questionable tactics of their own. The public debate features accusations and cross-accusations of the "how dare you" kind, with base motives ascribed to each side, a kind of blaring public debate that makes me wonder what happened to the days of discussion groups, amicable political dialogue and genteel salons.
Somehow, then, through the noise appeared this gem in my local bookstore: "On Democracy" by E.B. White. Yes that E.B. White, author of "Charlotte's Web" and "Stuart Little" and co-author of the classic "On Writing" by Strunk and White. It turns out that White also wrote extensively on what democracy means and on how it's practiced. The book, newly published and edited by his granddaughter, Martha White, features essays on the health of our democracy during some of the most challenging years of the 20th century. From 1928 to 1976, White held firm, first against the Nazi threat, through the Joe McCarthy era and on into the 1970s, offering wise words on the care and feeding of our public debate, the very essence of a healthy democracy.
He speaks to a 21st century audience that would do well to pay heed. He writes of the power and limits of the majority -- and the same of various factions that have rights as well. He writes of the threats from outside and inside our nation, and most importantly, of the danger of overemotional passions that can result from demagogues.
Then there's his view of the importance of newspapers. As that industry dies off -- more on this in the days to come -- its fading role in today's mass media carries with it these words of warning:
"One of the earliest truths (and to him most valuable) that the author of "Mein Kampf" discovered was that it is not the written word, but the spoken word, which in heated moments moves great masses of people to noble or ignoble action. The written word, unlike the spoken word, is something which every person examines privately and judges calmly by his own intellectual standards, not by what the man next to him thinks."
And here he quotes Hitler: "I know that one is able to win people far more by the spoken than by the written word...'
I bet Hitler would have loved Fox News, MSNBC, Twitter and Facebook.