How the Future Looks Now

Culture Watch

Mr. Fleming is the author of more than forty books including, most recently, The New Dealer's War. He is a member of the board of directors of History News Network.

The last time I saw Harry S. Truman, in the spring of 1971, we talked about the mess the country had created in Vietnam and the mess Vietnam had created in the country. I had never seen the eighty-seven year old ex-President so pessimistic about the future of the United States."I'm glad I'm not my grandchildren," he said.

Yet America survived that"suicide attempt," as historian Paul Johnson called it. The country even survived Watergate, which the gods mercifully spared Mr. Truman by summoning him to Valhalla in 1972. He thought Lyndon Johnson had wounded the presidency by declining to run in 1968 and settling whether we were going to fight Vietnam to the finish, the way Lincoln settled the Civil War by winning reelection in 1864. I shudder to think what he would have thought about Nixon's mental and moral White House collapse.

So here we are in 2001, peering into a future shadowed by a still worse moral and mental presidential disaster --the Clinton impeachment. I am especially troubled by the havoc it has wreaked on my party, the Democrats. Most Republicans stopped defending Nixon not long after the smoking gun appeared on the White House tapes. In their stubborn defense of Bill Clinton the Democrats have come perilously close to becoming the party of the Big Lie. That's what they were in the runup to the Civil War, when they lied in their own and everyone else's teeth about slavery. Now they are attempting to tell us that a president can be a loathesome lying sexual degenerate, guilty of misconduct that would get him dismissed from the armed forces and fired from every company in America, but that's all right, as long as Congress declines to impeach him. They are getting away with it only because much of the media has become a branch of the party.

I wrote the preceding paragraphs on Monday, September 10, as the opening of an essay on the American future --part of a series proposed by the editors of the History News Network. On September 11, I sat in my New York apartment and watched the World Trade Center twin towers burn and collapse. My son Tom's brother in law, Fire Department Lieutenant Glenn Perry, died in that catastrophe. Glenn was a reader, a thinker, a lover of history. He knew what he was risking when he stepped on an elevator that took him to the 40th floor of the blazing building, only a half hour before it disintegrated. He was sustained by an inner ethic of duty and courage -- and faith in God.

As New Yorkers -- and Americans everywhere -- reeled in the brutal revelation of our vulnerability, I saw a future unfold that was radically different from the pessimistic vision I was developing in this essay. My God, I thought, how lucky we are to be rid of Bill Clinton! Can you imagine him issuing a moral rallying cry to the nation? Of course he would try it, with his usual effrontery, but it would have fallen as flat as his ruined presidency. The shock of this attack -- and the motives behind it -- will, I am convinced, produce a different America in the 21st Century. One that will look back on Bill Clinton and his allies with loathing and disgust.

What do these Moslem fundamentalists see when they call America the Great Satan? They see a backer of Israel -- and a world wide spreader of moral and spiritual decadence. We will, of course, remain a strong supporter of Israel. The right of the Jewish people to a homeland is incontestable. But when we consider the other source of Arab hatred -- I predict we will ruefully admit they have a point.

Prima facie evidence, of course, is the president of the United States having cunnilingus in the Oval Office and standing accused of groping other women in the White House and pursuing countless others outside it. This is decadent behavior of the worst imaginable sort, using one's power to exploit women. Yet no one in either party has had the courage to denounce it, since Congress failed to impeach him. Pundits have acted as if the failure to convict was some sort of moral vindication.

No more. I predict that the American people will demand a different standard of conduct, not merely from their president and other political leaders, but from themselves. They will sense the necessity of this change in our moral compass, if this crusade against terrorism is to succeed.

The American nation's central dynamic, freedom, constantly creates individuals and ideas who can cope with mew challenges. In my latest book, The New Dealers' War, I chart the decline and fall of Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal imperium during World War II -- and the improbable emergence of Harry S. Truman, a seemingly average man who dismantled the New Deal without abandoning liberalism and charted a course between nuclear destruction and surrender to Communist pretensions that enabled the 20th Century to end as a celebration of democratic ideals.

I see similar unexpected leadership emerging in the coming decades. An African-American leader, Colin Powell or someone like him, will forge new bonds between black and white Americans. Chinese Americans, loyal to their adopted nation, will help us deal with an aggressive China. Latino-American politicians will help us chart new relationships with South and Central America. A new generation of Jewish Americans will tell Israel it is time to abandon the settlements and seek genuine peace with their neighbors.

None of these things will be accomplished without plenty of sturm and drang. The essence of American freedom is conflict; sweetness and light has never played much of a part in the American story. The current crop of politicians are only frittering around the edges of the major issues that will be settled in the next hundred years.

At the center of this morally transformed America will be a new religious faith, radically different from the previous age of faith. It has been foreseen by that prophetic historian, Oswald Spengler, who called it the"Second Religiousness." This new worldwide faith will not be divided by arguments over dogma and heresy. It will be a fundamental trust in God's presence in individual souls.

Here are Spengler's words, which I used as a frontispiece in my novel, Loyalties, about the most heroic souls of the previous century, the men and women of the German resistance to Hitler."While in high places, there is eternal alternance of victory and defeat, those in the depths pray, pray with that mighty piety of the Second Religiousness that has overcome all doubts forever. There, in the souls, world-peace, the peace of becoming actual -- and there alone."

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PAul SIff - 10/15/2001

To begin, it was fellatio, not cunnilingus, in which Bill Clinton was engaged in the White House, and as the recipient, not the performer. I believe it was Gennifer Flowers who attested to his proficiency in the latter practice.

Be that as it may, Fleming comes perilously close to Fallwell and Robertson in blaming Clinton for an alleged degeneracy in the U.S. Sexual license is currently woven into the very fabric of our national life; even archconservative Rupert Murdoch profits from it on his Fox Network. Dubious Dubya will not change matters unless he is prepared to launch an all-out attack against Britney Spears' exposed midriff. Given the sexual profligacy of well-known GOP leaders, a holy war against venery from that quarter seems very unlikely. So, too, does a return to the Victorian sexual repression of 150 years ago, though historians well know that nothing is impossible.

As for Mr. Bill as a moral leader, whatever his failings, the speech he delivered recently at Yale struck me (in printed version) as very effective, certainly more eloquent and thoughtful than anything that has so far issued from the mouth of George W. Dubya's initial comments reminded me of Ricochet Rabbit; hearing his most recent press conference, I was initially at a loss to know if it was him or a Saturday Night Live parody.

Paul Siff
Sacred Heart University

keith miller - 10/11/2001

To assert, as Stephen Ambrose supposedly did, that the 20th century was the worst ever, is utter nonsense! I thought Mr. Ambrose had more sense. Consider this--more people lived well around the world in the 20th century than in any previous one. And, the accomplishments of science, including medicine, will stand forever. In that regard, let me give but one concrete example. Modern physics, beginning with Albert Einstein's special theory of relativity (1905), as supplemented through the development of quantum mechanics since the early 1920s, demolished the Classical World View, which had apparently been established by Sir Isaac Newton in late 17th century. To elaborate--Werner Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle of 1927 has destroyed the foundations for all deterministic/mechanistic models of reality, including that of reductionism. For one good book on the matter see Paul Davies, God and the New Physics (1983). Davies is no "crack-pot;" for, he is a physicist in good standing himself.

Edward Winslow - 10/11/2001

Fleming sees a new morality resulting from the Sept. 11 travesty. He seems optimistic. He is right. There will be changes;they are already happening. But the changes I foretell are not the pollyanna changes he mentions. I see a diminution of civil liberties, and more paranoia from flag-waving zealots that will target those in our culture that look or act differently then they do. I see global wars destroying more lives and more property in the coming years. I see a severely restricted newsmedia that will become the focus of a kill the messenger mentality. In short, we have yet to see the worst of this recent trend toward madness.