Pennsylvania looms large in our national story, not only in 1776 but also Saturday, Oct. 27, the cannons of 1863 and back to 1681.
If we're edging near the political equivalent of civil war, the president is on the wrong side of history, emboldening white male supremacy and inciting anti-Semitic violence — the worst ever in America. Things happened we thought couldn't happen here.
At first, President Donald Trump called up populist Andrew Jackson, outraging the elites. Now Trump is like Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, without the Southern charm.
Like that scoundrel, Trump is tearing the country in two. Most American presidents try to bring the country together. By his own admission, as he told author Bob Woodward, he brings out "rage." That is his singular talent, spewing a mix of invective, boasting, ridicule and even "war" — on the press. Every day.
He never rests, even as the dead are being buried, and the mayor of a grieving city says to stay away.
Campaigning for an Illinois House seat mattered more to Trump than observing silence and respect for a mass slaying in a house of worship that very day. Then again, the House seat was a vehicle for his vanity. He didn't want to stay home Saturday night.
No, he has no "sense of decency, sir."
After the Pittsburgh Tree of Life synagogue tragedy left 11 Jews murdered in a rampage of hate, there's no denying it. We are facing a political crisis. The 1850s were polarized, too, with a racist Supreme Court upholding slavery shortly before the Civil War broke out.
The arc between then and now is rumbling. And it's not bending toward justice.
The 2018 midterm election map shows a bitterly divided landscape. The House is closer to the voice of the people, likely to turn Democratic. The aristocratic Senate, removed from debates of the day, likely remains red, lodged in the hands of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
He's what they used to call a Southern bull. His hero, Henry Clay, the Kentucky "Great Compromiser" tried to save slavery as long as possible.
Kentucky was a slave state, where runaway slaves crossed the Ohio River to freedom. Kentucky is also where an older man and woman were slain only the other day for being black.
The old South was no fun for anyone except plantation masters. America was nothing to be proud of, where mobs of white men attacked abolitionists in Boston and Philadelphia. Let's not turn back in that direction.
So, picture Pennsylvania farmland with hills in the distance: Gettysburg on three smoking summer days in 1863. That battle was the turning point of the Civil War. Brash Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general, had never gone that far north with his ragged barefoot army. The Union Army was finally ready to prevail in a huge engagement. General Meade knew this would be decisive. It was the midpoint of the four-year Civil War, just as we are at the midterm of Trump's four years. The blue army won, but boy, it was close. After Gettysburg, a military historian told me, Lee could not have won the war.
Soon we'll have our own Gettysburg, the political donnybrook on Election Day, Nov. 6. The sides of this torn nation meet at the ballot box. High are the stakes, getting higher. The result will speak loudly — in divided houses of Congress.
The Virginian founders were rich slaveholders. We glorify them but forget great colonial governor William Penn, the Quaker who championed peace and religious freedom. The bright Englishman sailed to found a Quaker colony dedicated to such radical ideals. The New World land was named Pennsylvania. Penn would weep to see bloodshed in the beloved Squirrel Hill synagogue.
History is full of turns toward the right thing. Abraham Lincoln told us that truth in the Gettysburg address, on an autumnal November day. But as the battlefield he stood on made clear, the cost of saving American democracy can be dear.
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