Musings of a Curmudgeon

Growing up as a young boy in the late 40’s and early 50’s now seems more like a mirage than reality. It was a much different world; an innocent place, by today’s standards. Cell phones and the internet were not even in the wildest of dreams.

The family refrigerator was a sheetmetal icebox with a door. Each day, a horse drawn wagon stopped in front of the house, and an imposing man clad in a heavy leather apron delivered a large block of ice.

A television set―the family’s first―was purchased in 1952, just in time to witness what seemed like an entire summer of televised political conventions, with nothing else to view.

Shortly after the November 1952 election, this author was gifted with the first three books which became his personal library. They were: The Legend of Davy Crockett, Robinson Crusoe and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Looking back, those novels arranged some remarkable guideposts for a life yet to be realized.

There were some preposterous, braggart stories in the Legend of Davy Crockett.  Crockett’s tongue-in-cheek tall tales were tempered with his statement “Every word is true…except the ones that aint!” There were claims of riding an alligator up the Niagara Falls, killing a bear at age three and saving the world from Halley’s Comet.  Nevertheless, Crockett was―and in Tennessee still is―a larger than life symbol of American frontier days.  Also, the populist president Andrew Jackson was glorified in the novel as “Old Hickory.” As a result of the book―and the Walt Disney series of productions of the Davy Crockett legend starring Fess Parker―every kid in the neighborhood wanted a coonskin cap. It also inspired a generation of boys dreaming of receiving their first Red Ryder BB gun.

Adulthood, however, brought a different and sobering perspective to the Crockett legend. Crockett was never proud of his part in the raid led by Colonel John Coffee on the Creek Indian tribe during the War of 1812. Author Michael Wallis in his book David Crockett, THE LION OF THE WEST, copyright 2011, p. 112,  related Crockett’s words:

…the sleeping village was completely encircled by troops, and, at one hour after sunrise, the attack was launched.  Crockett wrote of seeing as many as forty-six Creek warriors seek cover in a house. “We now shot them like dogs; and then set the house on fire, and burned it up with the forty six warriors in it.”

In addition, history informs us that “Old Hickory” was the primary mover in the “Trail of Tears,” a racist uprooting and relocation of the Cherokee Indian Nation from the southeastern United States to Oklahoma. That controversy was quite similar to Japanese relocation and internments following the attack on Pearl Harbor, for which the United States made reparation to survivors.

Robinson Crusoe was different. One of the more popular of Daniel Defoe’s literary achievements, the novel presented a hands-on guide for survival in a hostile and isolated environment. Many generations of young boys ushered in adulthood upon the inspiration of a man adapting to his surroundings on an island he called home for 28 years.

Mark twain, justified or not, in an 1895 essay mocked and ridiculed James Fenimore Cooper for using the “snapping twig in the forest” as a recurring theme. If Twain were alive today, he would be hard at work ridiculing the American people for bringing to life the  Dauphin character from his novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in the person of present day grifter Donald Trump.

Twain’s fictional characters Duke and Dauphin (also known as the King and the Duke) made their living swindling gullible townspeople by various schemes in their trip down the Mississippi with Huck and the slave Jim. Present day grifter Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner likewise have mesmerized a faithful population of gullible disciples.

As the plot unfolds,  seventy year old Dauphin  (this age is coincidence?) hatches a play he titled “The Royal Nonesuch,” which turns out to be a short rendition of absurd and obscene sham, much like the current state of affairs in the West Wing of the White House. In Twain’s novel, the Duke and King are eventually exposed, tarred, feathered and run out of town on a rail. Thus, even Robert Mueller presciently appears as an exposing  and prosecuting force of townspeople in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Notwithstanding  confirmation of his election, Donald Trump cannot seem to get away from campaign style gatherings.  There have been several. As a backdrop, on each occasion there appears an admiring group of white supporters. Without much effort, one can look at that assemblage and correlate them  with the gullible townspeople in Twain’s novel.

H.L. Mencken once defined democracy as the “worship of jackals by jackasses.”  Prior to Mencken, Mark Twain revealed the possibility of such a concept in his broadly comic and subtly ironic fiction.

Alas, Donald Trump and his cult of followers brought a marriage of Mencken’s definition and Twain’s fiction to the American stage in vivid, living color.

Truman Goodspeed, 2017

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