Vision

Along Highway 55, northwest of McCall, Idaho, is a stretch of road winding through breathtaking mountains.The terrain tinges a powdery blue, set against the white ribbon of lingering snow, and Payette River flowing beside. This route isn’t fast, but the scenery more than compensates for the slow pace. 

After a steep descent the highway straightens revealing a number of cabins and trailers. Trump signs abound, (not unusual) along with flags emblazoned with Don’t Tread On Me or, the black, blue and, white version of the Stars and Stripes. In particular, this one double wide sits near the road, and passing that place always catches my eye. Cemented between the shoulder and gravel driveway stands a mailbox bearing the Confederate flag.

The irony of that particular symbol of defiance is, well, the actual Confederate mail system had completely broken down by the end of the Civil War. Any Rebel delivery between battle front and home was spotty, at best. In contrast, the Northern mail system saw remarkable advances. In light of the vast numbers of Union dead, the public listing of the deceased grew impossible. Affected families were allowed to endure the devastating news in private.

That decorated mailbox along the highway strikes me as a metaphor for extreme politics. The US postal system or, any other federally funded service simply wouldn’t exist.

For example, the bridge those residents must cross to get to Boise is connected by a span built by agencies of FDR’s New Deal. The forest fires that seasonally threaten that little enclave, are fought through funds from the Department of the Interior. 

More national programs underscore the absurdity of that little loaf of painted aluminum. Flood control, WIC nutrition,Title 1 education funds, Medicare and Medicaid, all making life better for that little rural residence. 

The South lost the Civil War because the people and their leaders lacked both organization and vision. All these “dissatisfied countrymen” to use Lincoln’s words understood only grievance and fury. No sense of unity, even under the threat of defeat could, for example, force Georgia to send troops to General Lee in Virginia. 

The politics of simmering outrage is aimless and fruitless. Leaders who promote incendiary hogwash for their own gain leave followers incensed and dangerous, as the ringleaders move on. 

Like on January 6, 2021.

Gail Chumbley is a history educator and author. Her works include “River of January” and “River of January: Figure Eight,” both available on Kindle.

gailchumbley@gmail.com

El Dorado

 

Image

In the far west lay the Kingdom of Idaho. It is a vast, lovely realm; rich in scenic wonder, mountainous regions covered in timber, and a verdant plain of abundant fertility. The kingdom, in truth, a land of ceaseless beauty and bounty.

And the people are free in this land. And if a subject ever questions that truth, they only need ask Idaho’s barons who, every two years, remind them of their autonomy.

By regularly invoking the peasants liberty, these insulated aristocrats have much to gain.

The lordly use many devices to sway the masses. These powerful figures often array themselves in the garments of Idaho’s historic past–recognizable symbols of western freedom. Stetson hats, Tony Lama boots, lasso and horse in hand parading potent images of liberty to the populace. These cagey barons cleverly propagandize, through these symbols, the peasants good fortune in living in such a utopia.

And the powerful do not suffer challenges from the foolish–other non-barons holding competing beliefs. In fact, the most strident pretenders are set up for mockery, and honest contenders are marginalized and disenfranchised. These barons know what is best for their Kingdom.

Meanwhile the realm decays. The highways and byways, prove perilous, pocked in ruts and potholes. The young are packed into schools in overwhelming numbers, to be promoted through the education system with no regard for learning. The vulnerable, the sick, and others outside the barons’ understanding have no voice in this Kingdom of Idaho.

Still the barons persist in flourishing the images of freedom to placate the peasants in the domain. Indeed these humble folk predictably embrace this idealized portrait of their land, and reassured, most gleefully continue to support the Kingdom’s seated nobility.

The subjects residing in this beautiful realm live satisfied that they are, indeed, the freest, and luckiest, and the most independent folk around.

Their leaders, flourishing the domain’s revered symbols every two years, remind them so.