In my December post about my 2010 book challenge reads, I selected The Handmaid’s Tale, a disturbing portrayal of a dystopic American future, as the book I felt everybody should read. In my Goodreads review of the book, I wrote that “given the extremes in rhetoric we are hearing more and more in the public sphere, this may have been more chilling to me now than if I had read it ten years ago.” At the time, I wondered if that might be too strong a statement. The events of this weekend were a sad reminder that it was not.
While extreme rhetoric has always been with us, going back to the Founding Fathers, and I myself showed a certain fondness for Thomas Jefferson during the misguided war and escalating deficits of the Bush years,
A little patience, and we shall see the reign of witches pass over, their spells dissolve, and the people, recovering their true sight, restore their government to its true principles. It is true that in the mean time we are suffering deeply in spirit, and incurring the horrors of a war & long oppressions of enormous public debt. But who can say what would be the evils of a scission, and when & where they would end?
—Thomas Jefferson to John Taylor, 4 June 1798
I truly hope that the events of this weekend will have people on both sides of the aisle rethinking how they contribute to the public discourse. I know I will.