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"Things to Come" movie poster

Charlottesville and a Dread Déjà Vu


By Jim Downard

Nazis march in Charlottesville, Virginia, proclaiming they will not be replaced by Jews. Angry opponents brandish flame-spurting paint cans. A revved up barbarian (who imagines Donald Trump sitting “Game of Thrones” style, draped in the American flag) decided to drive into a line of protesters, bringing death to an already dismal manifestation of bigotry and stupidity.

And the foolish and ineptly dangerous Narcissist-in-Chief finally called for everyone to come together, and not do bad things, as though the years of virulent demagoguery spewed from his own lips and Twitter feed had not relentlessly and perniciously fueled this current conflagration.

Fake News. Lying Media. Lock Her Up. Build that Wall.

Mr. Trump showed no lethargy in voicing those sentiments. Johnny on the Tweet then.

“These are the times that try men’s souls.” Tom Paine’s words are no less a warning today, as a dread déjà vu brings to mind another time, another danger. Brown shirts and America First and bigoted dictators strutting with impunity as a world grew anxious over economic security and domestic tranquility. Protect our businesses, throw up those tariffs. Beware the outsider.

All we need is for Trumplandia to blunder on the economy (and you don’t think they can do it? The POTUS with more bankruptcies than ex-wives?) and blunder on one international crisis too many, and we may be replaying the slow motion ineptitude of the 1920s that greased the skids for the catastrophes of the 1930s.

Does it make you feel queasy? It sure as hell ought to.

Civic catastrophes rarely happen unforeseen. Our hindsight is too clear in spotting the step by step movement to doom. Like our prejudices, our horrible mistakes have to be carefully nourished and tended, like a garden of despair. Yesterday in Charlottesville a blip on the scope of a future tragedy may have been seen.

Is our future bleak and hate-filled?

We’re the ones writing the script. We’re the ones doing the deeds. Or not. Speaking the words of wisdom. Or not. Living our lives by dignity and a dedication to truth and decency.

Or not.

In his screenplay for “Things to Come” (his only film effort), H. G. Wells teased his 1935 audience with a 2035 vision of a post-apocalyptic utopia based on science and reason, where poverty and disease had been vanquished, leaving the world’s peoples free to follow their talents in the arts and technology, unfettered by the murderous waste of war and ignorance.

Poised on the brink of an endless exploration of space, the 21st century technocrat offered a simple alternative: pull back, shrink from the universe, act as we had before, leading lives that eventually snuffed out … or embrace the future, learn and explore, with no limits to what we could learn.

“All the Universe, or nothing … which shall it be? Which shall it be?”

Watching the pathetic tragedy of violence in Charlottesville in 2017 over the stupid prejudices of people who create nothing, who know nothing, who attack others they do not know, except by stereotype, I want to shake every one of them and repeat H. G. Wells’ 1935 question.

“Which shall it be? Which shall it be?”

It’s not too late. Not yet.

Not unless we let it be.


About Jim Downard

Jim Downard
Jim Downard is a Spokane native (with a sojourn in Southern California back in the early 1960s) who was raised in a secular family, so says had no personal faith to lose. He's always been a history and science buff (getting a bachelor's in the former area at what was then Eastern Washington University in the early 1970s).

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