Martha’s Vineyard is lovely in mid-September. The evenings are cool, yet still comfortable outside, dining in a short-sleeved shirt. We are staying at a house that occupies a prominence of land over the ocean, and the vegetation is still green, scruffy salt-resistant growths that do not resemble their Floridian cousins. The plants do not grow high enough to obscure the view of the sea on this little tip of the western part of the island. The roads are all two lane and there are no traffic lights anywhere. Stop signs govern the passage of traffic, most of which must obey a speed limit of 30 miles per hour. Cyclists further inhibit the time in which it takes to get to Edgartown, the largest village on the Vineyard 25 miles away. Part of our trip there includes a trek down a gravely, ungraded road that tortures the suspension of any car. But it Is worth it.
Sitting out on the terrace of this house makes me contemplate the different culture here of the inhabitants, mostly affluent deserters of New York and Boston. Edgartown is a Disneyfied collage of gingerbread houses, dating from the 17th and 18th centuries, carefully maintained, curated, and restored. Some of it seems to be unreal in its reality, like some Hollywood set prepared for a screwball Katherine Hepburn-Cary Grant rom-com. The stores and restaurants exude a come hither feeling for crustacean-stuffed inside some super fattening butter rolls.
There are no streetlights on the roads, which host nearby trees that one slip of the wheel could kill. Still, the charm although a bit over the top, beckons one to return. With all its preserved authenticity, it seems surreal and almost disingenuous. Even so, there is no crime to speak of, because thieves would have to take the ferry to escape. Not very practical.
Being here helps to not consider all the problems of America. A rogue who wishes to destroy the rule of law, his enablers in the House and Senate who support his maledictions, and state governors and legislators, who, mounting an outrageous attack upon the franchise of the poor and the uneducated by exploiting the ignorance of their base whose attention span and literacy have now vanished into a fetid sea of social media, populism and tribal feuds, a divisive porridge of animosity, exacerbated by demagoguery. Here, on the Vineyard, it all seems so remote.
I am wondering how this all will end just as those who, in 1860, saw the Union, a house divided, tumbling into a sanguinary Civil war ripping the nation to shreds. Nations are born and die on a rule of law, designed to temper the passions of tribally impulsive inclinations, many of which are genetically violent. Our history is replete with demagogues preying upon the people for their own benefit, enabled by economic hard times and changes in technology.
The old trope of being condemned to repeat the mistakes of the past, is verified by the numerous wars and adventures culminating in failure since the end of World War II. I am not sure that the American public any longer has the capacity to understand the world around them. When so many can believe that suppressing the vote will make the Union better, will provide more democracy, will ensure a better life and keep America white, nationalist and tribal, then we are in for a rough ride indeed. If the Confederacy had won the “war between the states,” what would have been the result? Two nations? One red and one blue? Isn’t that what we have now? Would there have been a civil rights movement in the Confederacy?
Was that bloody war killing 700,000 Americans necessary? While our culture is evolving (for the better), some would argue, not that much. Think about it. A southern confederacy of states based upon slavery existed, at least longer than it should have, and a northern industrial behemoth, outstripping it, also based on divisive wealth and inequality prevailed over a southern agricultural economy, the industry of which was supplying cotton to the mills of the north and to Europe, the upper classes of which profited from slavery in the south and economic servitude in the north. Would that have changed if the Confederacy had survived?
Alternative histories as much as what really happened, are philosophical/political speculations, but they are instructive.
Philip Roth, in his prescient novel, “The Plot Against America” speculates what would have happened if Charles Lindbergh, a Germanophilic, racist Nazi sympathizer had been elected president in 1940, defeating FDR. Jewish boys are sent to work camps, and a rabbi who thinks that he will win personal and political advancement, mistakes patronization and manipulation by Lindberg to him, in order to convince the Jewish community to support Charles Lindbergh. An ironical rabbinic dupe, who through his gullibility misleads his kin into a maelstrom of deceit. At least he was just stupid, not a sociopathic liar. Well, that is for another time.
Now it is time to leave this splendid island and return to Miami Beach the other island in my life, it being filled with diversity, excitement, and at my stage of the game hopefully a better year than last.