Prairie Lights: Growing weary of gawking at car wrecks


The more things change…  A Know-Nothing cartoon from the mid-1800s, targeting those religious extremists the Irish and the Germans.

Starting approximately three seconds after Barack Obama was declared the winner of the 2008 presidential election, we were warned nonstop that the nation was unlikely to survive his four-year term.

It did survive, quite well, thank you, but the same warnings were issued, in even more heated tones, on the evening of the 2012 election. Those fears weren’t even based on fear, just partisan hatred of the slimiest kind.


Ed Kemmick

Putting that nonsense aside, I do think it’s fair to ask whether the United States will survive the Republican presidential primary without being seen by the rest of the world as a place where the loonies are running the bin.

I honestly can’t remember any period of my life where I have approached the ritual of reading the morning newspaper with the same mixture of dread and delight. Dread at witnessing at how low people are willing to go, how stupid they are willing to sound—or how stupid they simply are. And delight at watching them slowly roast on the fires they have started.

The dread is beginning to overwhelm the delight. It’s hard not to gawk at a car wreck, and then you usually wish you hadn’t. But to pass by some horrific wreck every single day? It can’t be good for you.

I remember learning of the Know-Nothing Party of the mid-1800s, formed mostly in opposition to the immigration of German and Irish Catholics. The Know-Nothings believed that these nasty people took their orders from the pope and would never find a real home in our democratic republic.

It seemed so outlandish, but also reassuringly comical because of its distance in time … until Ben Carson—still a “serious” GOP candidate—repeated similar slanders about Muslims.

I also recalled reading about the shameful unwillingness of this country to take in European Jews on the eve of World War II, sending them back to a continent on fire with hatred and death. Thank God that couldn’t happen again, I figured … until GOP presidential candidates began competing to see who could more mercilessly denigrate Syrian refugees.

There is one difference, though. In the years before World War II, an isolationist United States could at least pretend to have had no hand in creating the terrible situation in Europe. But we have had a direct hand in creating the mess in the Mideast, however noble our intentions might have been, and those Syrian refugees are our problem in a way that the Jews of Europe were not.

I could list a few hundred other examples of the way the GOP candidates have lost their way, their compassion and their marbles, but what’s the use? You’re all following the news, too, right?

If you’re also following the opinion pages, there is a glimmer of hope. In the same way that only Nixon could go to China, only a rock-solid conservative pundit could say what meaningfully what needs to be said about the worst of the GOP lot, Donald Trump.

In a recent column, George Will noted Trump’s “pluperfect unseriousness,” called one of his tirades “coarse, vulgar and nasty,” and then held out hope for Republicans, saying, “Fortunately, sufficient days remain for Republicans to reshuffle the deck, to relegate Trump’s rampaging to the nation’s mental attic.”

True to form, Trump called on Fox News to cut Will loose, calling him “boring and totally biased.” Biased? I suppose he is, in favor of the kind of conservatism that can be defended with reason, and indulged in by grown-ups.

Speaking of George Will, I have to add that the nation also owes him thanks for having gone on the offensive against another phony-baloney, dim-bulb conservative. If there were ever any doubts that Bill O’Reilly’s only enduring concern has been the success of Bill O’Reilly Inc., Will’s back-to-back columns about O’Reilly’s new book about Ronald Reagan should dispel them.

The first column opened with these words: “Donald Trump is just one symptom of today’s cultural pathology of self-validating vehemence with blustery certitudes substituting for evidence. Another is the fact that the book atop the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list is a tissue of unsubstantiated assertions.”

Apparently thinking he hadn’t made his point quite strongly enough, Will wrote about O’Reilly’s book again a few days later, calling O’Reilly an “opportunistic interloper” whose “vast carelessness pollutes history and debases the historian’s craft.”

For some reason, the words “pathology” and “blustery” made me think of Rush Limbaugh, whom I listen to occasionally, mostly in awe at how consistently he debases the talk-show host’s craft. Anyway, one of his favorite points lately is that despite the efforts of the leftist media to destroy Trump and Carson, the two just keep gaining more followers.

That is true, but almost all those followers are on the fringes of the Republican Party, showing once again that pandering to the lowest common denominator is a great way to win primaries but a terrible way to run for president.

By far the most depressing thought is that things only get worse as we get closer to Election Day. We still have 351 days, and lots of car wrecks, to go.

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