Monday, December 09, 2013 7:57 PM
If I stop and think about it, I can barely remember what was ‘important’ two weeks ago. There was a government shutdown, a chemical weapon in Syria, a record-breaking typhoon devastated the Philippines, a record-breaking cold snap in the whole western half of our country—there were a lot of things. But whenever something newer comes up, suddenly the disasters and shutdowns are passé and the new ‘News’ is all that matters. It happened with Zimmerman’s third arrest on gun-nut charges, it happened when Miley Cyrus twerked her ass on TV, and it happens when a wife throws her brand-new hubby off a cliff during their honeymoon.
It all changes so fast, so randomly, that when something like Nelson Mandela’s death is reported, it almost hits us in the breadbasket (emotionally speaking). The sudden appearance of a terrible loss like that is out of place in the corn-popping procession of fear-mongering, bear-baiting, and trivia that the News normally shows. And, as happened after the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, some conservative politicians were publicly embarrassed by archival videos of remarks they made concerning Mandela before history exalted him to his rightful place among world leaders.
The scariest part is that the President and First Lady, former Pres. and Mrs. Bush, and former Pres. and former Secretary of State Clinton—are all attending Mandela’s memorial in South Africa. And this is at the same time that concerns are being expressed about the ethical vacuum that the great leader left in his wake. It may be a tumultuous ceremony with who knows how many dangers for these American Executives, past and present. If I ran the Secret Service, I’d be sweating bullets over the possibility of some chaos or rioting breaking out.
The ‘next president’ was a concern shared by George Washington—our first president of a free nation—and few precedents were set during his office that might be turned to abuse of power by any subsequent office-holder. To wield power without setting precedents is virtually impossible—and like Washington, Mandela’s journey to leadership was a refining fire that few would afterwards endure. Finding a replacement even half as selfless and visionary will be no easy task.
We see this in the reports of young South Africans for whom Apartheid is a chapter in a history book, not something they truly appreciate—paradoxically, because their parents and grandparents had already gone through the struggle. In making their country free, they have taken the steel out of their children’s lives. This Catch-22 of history always appears, taking the children of the generations that fought in the Revolution, or in WWII, or in ending Apartheid, and making them ignorant of the price of their liberty, because it was there from their first memories—a fact of life.
That is not to say that I would be afraid to walk around in South Africa—they’re bound to be more civilized than the denizens of NYC, or at least more polite. Politically, however, there may be numerous factions who are waiting for their own specific ‘shoe’ to drop—and this time and place could easily become a downpour of shoes. Not the best place, perhaps, for the President of the United States—still, Mandela’s legacy deserves that recognition and more.
It’s difficult to describe my feelings about modern history. Two of the greatest heroes of my lifetime were Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela—both men (and their huge followings) were in a pitched battle with Caucasians like myself, except for the fact that those many Caucasians believed in racism. I’m happy to be on the losing side. I’m sad that I look like those idiots, the White Supremacists and the even-worse closeted bigots who never speak straight about their own hate. I’m relieved that the thrust of history is driving this ignorance from modern cultures. I’m afraid that being pale-skinned makes me part of the problem—even though my sentiments are entirely pro-unity. It’s difficult to describe—especially because my problems pale in comparison with all the non-whites who still face a torrent of bias every day.
In my youth, protestors would see TV cameras and start chanting, “The whole world is watching… The whole world is watching….” And back then it was true—broadcast TV had three major networks and those networks decided what ‘the world’ saw. Protest strategy of the time was targeted towards getting a news camera to show up—that was all that mattered. And if the protestors were lucky, Johnny Carson might make a joke about them in his monologue—which legitimized whatever cause it was as being of national importance. It didn’t seem as strange then as it does now to describe it—it was all part of the culture back then.
Nowadays, the whole world is not ‘watching’, the world is surfing the web and texting on its I-phones. The only unification to be found is the phenomenon of the ‘viral video’—the only trouble with these clips is that they are never of any use or value—other than that they are all something we all agree are delightful distractions. Do not hold your breath waiting for the first viral video about trigonometry or astrophysics.
Will South Africa be able to stick to its founding president’s goals and ideals? Only the people of South Africa can decide—I hope for the best for them—nothing would be more tragic than for Nelson Mandela’s dream to die with him.