On the morning after the New York primary all that comes to mind is the distance between ourselves and Franklin’s promise of a Republic—if we could keep it. I woke up this morning to the stench of decline and fall. It is in the air, foul and nation-smothering. It is the stink of a banana republic, one that mimics that founding promise while it surrenders the ground of it to corrosive candidates for high office.
The phrase Walt Kelly put into the mouth of Pogo inverted the words of the great naval commander Oliver Hazard Perry: “We have met the enemy and they are ours.” He fought piracy and the white slave trade—early Muslim terrorism—in the Barbary Wars. Perry is best known, if contemporary history books remember him at all, as the hero of the War of 1812. It was young Perry, still in his twenties, who led the U.S. naval forces to victory over the Royal Navy on Lake Erie.
The words on his battle flag have dwindled into a commonplace void of any sense of history: “Don’t Give Up the Ship.” Kelly’s comic strip inversion of Perry’s courage and stamina for his country’s cause has proven prophetic. Digital devices in hand, we huddle behind our air bags, bicycle helmets, seat belts, spa treatments, bottled waters, and delude ourselves into thinking we are safe.
Meanwhile, we cede a hard-won Republic to squalid, grandstanding rabble-rousers. We rally behind squalid power mongers who propel us down Third World roads. If it were possible to bring Pogo up-to-date, the going phrase might be: “We have met the enemy, and we are theirs.”
God help us.