George Santayana is credited with the famous quote, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” This has been repeated by countless history teachers in their efforts to ensure they keep their jobs.
What they don’t know is what George uttered later that same day: “And those who do study the past are just as likely to make the same stupid mistake as those who do not.” Well, at least I think he said it. If he didn’t, he should have.
History really does repeat itself and recently I was reminded of that while looking through a batch of old political buttons. As the Book of Ecclesiastes says, “There’s nothing new under the sun.”
Here are some examples.
I ran across one pin that said, “I have been vaccinated. Have you?” This little item goes way back to the middle of the 20th century when there was a nationwide drive to get children (and adults) vaccinated. The scourge of polio and other diseases was a terrible reality that most of us alive today apparently have forgotten.
There is a growing movement in this country to not have children inoculated because of potential links to autism. So now we’re seeing increased cases of diseases like measles that were all but extinct. I think we ought to start passing out those buttons again.
Here’s another one: a 1970s button that says “Keep Abortion Legal.” This was created not long after Roe vs. Wade when the backlash against the Supreme Court decision was still young. Here we are 40 years later and the fight is still going on. Just so you know, you won’t find me wearing that button.
Then there’s the “America First” buttons. No, they aren’t recent — they’re from World War I and World War II. There was a big “America First” movement prior to the First World War that was slowed down, but not stopped, by the war. It was revived prior to the Second World War but died on Dec. 8, 1941, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Those movements were motivated by people who pretty much wanted to let the rest of the world do what it wanted as long as it didn’t bother us.
Well, America First is back. This time around, it seems more like, “Leave us alone but we reserve the right to kick your butt if we want to.” But it’s the same slogan and people love it.
And as for slogans, remember “Make America Great Again?” No, not the Donald Trump version, the Ronald Reagan version. That was Ronald Reagan’s slogan back in 1980, only he didn’t wear a goofy hat. I guess they thought what was good for the Gipper would be good for the Donald. I have to say it worked. I am a little depressed that we keep losing our greatness in such short spans of time. I think I would settle for “If not great at least really good and without all the cliffhanger experiences.”
You see these themes repeat themselves all the time in politics. I have to say American politicians have a decided lack of imagination, exceeded only by the voters’ lack of imagination, because we fall for the same things every time.
Then there’s George Santayana. He was a philosopher and writer who also said things like, “Only the dead have seen the end of war,” “Nonsense is so good because common sense is limited,” “America is a young country with an old mentality” and “Darkness is the absence of light. So make sure your flashlight has batteries.” No, he didn’t say that last one. I made it up just to show that when you get a reputation you can say just about anything and people think it’s really deep.
At any rate, don’t think that Donald Trump or any of the 3,472 Democratic presidential candidates are going to pull something new on you. Look back enough and you’ll be able to see where they’re going.
David Lindeman is a Troy resident and former editor at the Troy Daily News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.