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Milan Vodicka: Lessons of 2019

Other Voices
Milan Vodicka

The year 2019 is disappearing in the rear view mirror … what did it bring us? What can we learn?

In my mind, very subjectively — after all, “We are who we are because where we were when” — two aspects jump to the forefront. They are the cult of personality and schematism (“the arrangement or presentation of something according to a scheme”). Yes, from my very distant past of living in the “socialist republic.”

This happens in line with “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” Those two concepts were invoked by then (the 1950s) leader Nikita Khrushchev, of the then world superpower Soviet Union. The cult of personality was accorded to his predecessor, Joseph Stalin (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stalin%27s_cult_of_personality).

Cult of personality. The leader is untouchable, perfect in all ways. No word of criticism or disapproval can be ever stated, under any circumstances. Any such act is subject to punishment, imprisonment, or even death (yes, remember Adolf Hitler). The followers of such a leader must follow, in their minds, speech, and acts. They must follow unequivocally and without exception.

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Let me illustrate this by actual events of my student life. In my “republic” to say a joke about the “worker’s president” was punishable by being imprisoned and subsequently blacklisted and kicked out of the university. We, as students played “Russian roulette” with this. One of us, the player would loudly tell a joke about the President in a public tram or a bus. The bet was, “will I be arrested or not?” Keep in mind you could not trust anyone. Anyone could be a member of the secret police on the scene.

Fast forward to 2019, to the televised and otherwise public Congressional impeachment inquiry of Mr. Trump, the leader untouchable by his faithful followers. As my Canadian friend put it, the only thing missing is for them to raise their right hand.

Ask yourself, is it appropriate, for the president of the United States, to talk about Ms. Pelosi’s dentures (naturally for him, in a pejorative sense) or to “joke” about Mr. Dingell (World War II decorated veteran) looking up from hell? Even Mr. Lindsey Graham (yes, the senator of “I will not even pretend to be an impartial juror in the Senate impeachment trial”) stated, “This is not funny.” From social media, “The worst thing is people were laughing when Trump said these things.” Civility? Decency? In their cultist assessment, the leader can never do wrong.

The second integral part of the unquestioned and unquestionable following is the schematism. Black or white, nothing in between. Either you are with us, or you are against us. It is right or it is wrong. And if I cannot prove or defend that it is right, then you are wrong.

Here is how it manifests in practice, the record of my actual conversation. “The impeachment inquiry is about the conduct of the president.” Response: “You still suffer from the post-election syndrome.” What elicits such a response?

The schematists, in accordance with their schema, must justify their own position, by any means, under any circumstances. The conclusion precedes the evidence and argument. In fact, if the evidence is incontestable, the argument must be twisted to support the conclusion.

Some examples, regarding impeachment, from “conservatives:”

1. “Democrats want to overturn the will of 63 million Trump voters.”

2. “The process is a sham, hoax, kangaroo court, attempted coup.”

3. “The process is a waste of time, Congress should work for the American people.”

4. “Democrats wanted to get rid of the president from day one.”

5. “He did nothing wrong.”

Of course, the impeachment is not about what Democrats want, or do nor want, or wanted to do. It is about the conduct of the president. Moreover, there was the will of 66 million voters against Trump — not to mention millions and millions of those who did not vote for anyone. And of course, label, label, label! What has this to do with presidential conduct?

“The more things change, the more they stay the same.” As I said, very subjectively, this year 2019 echoes experiences of my youth. I think this year, in succession to the two years I wrote about before, continued the trend. Polarization and greed, a march toward authoritarian governance. The resilience of people embodying honesty, civility, intelligence and faith. We have it all. May our choices be wise!

I wish a happy and prosperous 2020 — the elections year — to everyone in Nevada County and beyond.

Milan Vodicka, has been a Nevada County resident since 1978.


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