Guest columnist Michael Coffey: ‘Humanity, reason and goodwill now back in vogue’

  • Joe Biden is sworn in as the 46th president of the United States by Chief Justice John Roberts as Jill Biden holds the Bible during the 59th Presidential Inauguration at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, as their children Ashley and Hunter watch. AP

Published: 1/21/2021 10:47:07 AM

Several days ago I read an article the New York Times describing the proposals of the incoming Biden administration to buttress the economy and wrest control over the relentless coronavirus attacking our world. I was moved to tears. It was like a breath of fresh spring air wafting into a cautiously opened window after a long, harsh winter.

Humanity, reason and goodwill are now back in vogue. It was like waking up from a nightmare and realizing it was only a dream. But it wasn’t a dream. It was a civil war which barely escaped armed conflict, at least to date.

Over the past four years I had forgotten, or perhaps given up hope on, how positive, helpful and strong good leaders can be. It is uncanny how over time our beliefs and values can be tainted by other people’s perceptions that we intellectually disagree with such as hate, racism, conspiracy theories, rejection of science, suspicion of government, accepting violence as a mean of resolving disputes, inability to understand or even listen to other people’s points of view.

Although we may never agree with these perceptions, we gradually are lulled into accepting them as a part of our society. But they needn’t be. They are holdovers from the medieval past. These anti-social views take us back to the 14th century or beyond when people believed in witches and spirits. Tribal warfare was rampant. Royalty reigned. Justice was at the whim of the powerful.

When the warmth of a new day arises, these dark shadows of doom suddenly evaporate into the mists of history as they have so many times in the past. The great strength of human beings is that they learn. They find better ways of doing things. They create social structures that make life easier, more fulfilling, safer. They create communities which support every individual and help solve common problems.

Evolution has enabled us to learn how to control our environment, rather than be controlled by it, like the animal kingdom before us. The most frightening thing about the last four years is that we have witnessed how many Americans, not just our misguided president, are willing and capable of returning to primitive, self-defeating behavior.

The echoes of the 14th century are still reverberating in the chambers of the 21st. Don’t get me wrong, I am no Pollyanna. The underbelly of human nature and politics have been with us throughout the history of humanity. It will continue to throb in our gut, struggling to come to the surface. But in the ebb and flow of current events, hope is now peeking through the clouds.

Hopefully the very fact that the Trump era happened will sharpen our awareness of how close we got to fascism. Yes, it can happen in our country.

Going forward, complacency may be our biggest danger. But it is good to see the signs of spring — the fragrance of returning growth, the buds of trees and plants, the pungency of moist earth, chipmunks poking their noses out of their lairs.

It may be prophetic that this political event is happening at the very moment we are getting oh so tired of these cold, dreary months and yearning for our annual rebirth of pleasant weather.

Michael Coffey lives in West Hatfield.

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