Bob Franken


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How is it that some of humankind’s most soaring achievements are inevitably followed by disappointment? I’ve been thinking about that in the days after we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. Those of us who were around can remember all the commentary about how this “one small step” was that exquisite moment where we seemed united as earthlings, reaching out to the infinite possibilities of the universe. Then gravity took over, and we quickly crashed back down onto our divisive reality.
It’s always like that, as we struggle to reach otherworldly heights but instead descend to the depths of conflict. Our potential works both ways, but invariably it’s mostly our divisions that motivate us. Even as we shared the perspective of our astronauts looking back at our planet, on the ground we were fighting wars over cultural and religious differences, hoarding resources while others were starving, and ravaging the climate so a few could profit. Quickly the magnificent adventure on the moon faded into malice.

How is it that in the U.S., a nation built on slavery, the celebration over the election of the first black president was immediately overridden by a return to the politics of exploiting racial prejudice that is still such a part of the American experience? To so many, Barack Obama never really got the chance to simply be a leader of all our citizens; he was always the black man, made a rallying point for ambitious charlatans to stoke up the bigotry of nervous whites.
How is it that we’ve followed President Obama with a President Donald Trump, who got elected not in spite of his ignorant hateful agenda, but because of it?
His dark art of the self-aggrandizing deal was based on an uncanny ability to promote himself and camouflage all of his financial failures with his constant hustles. His entire campaign was based on intolerance — intolerance of anyone different, a different color, or different religion that was not Judeo-Christian. His disregard of the truth, his obvious corruption, drag us all down.
How sad that he got to lead the 50th anniversary commemoration of our species stepping on the moon. He demonstrates daily that for any human crest there’s a nadir; the treatment of millions of migrants, for instance, forced from their homes by violence, or by starvation, only to be greeted by hostility wherever they try to escape.
President Trump has ushered in a new age of xenophobia on our southern borders, taking those huddled masses who want to venture north and throwing them into prisons — excuse me, asylum centers — that are so cruel, so foul, that they are a violation of human rights. He has emboldened authoritarians all over the globe to mistreat the desperate ones. Donald Trump is their inspiration. At the same time, he is inspired by the “toughness” of thuggish leaders like Russia’s Vladimir Putin, North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, Egypt’s Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi. And all the rest who make a mockery of democracy.
It’s easy to conclude that any institution, any corporate entity, any endeavor, no matter how honorable its beginnings, immediately starts to decline. Even the United States of America seems to be going through that process of implosion.
Perhaps it’s because the designers of this system of checks and balances were such flawed men, who talked a good game, promising to “… establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare …” but were slave owners. That is a stain on the nation that lasts to this day. Granted, we’ve come a long way from slavery, but its residue of racial discrimination still tarnishes our nation. Look at the man who presides over the country, and who stands a great chance of being re-elected.
As we venture to the heavens, we need to remember we still maintain an earthly hell that tarnishes any human achievement.

© 2019 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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