100 Years, 365 Days

by Tom Swift

I was asked the other day whether I would rather live 100 years in the future or 100 years in the past.

The question was posed in a group setting, a fun hypothetical. Nearly everyone in the room chose 100 years in the future, with many citing the progress that has been made on human rights since 1920 as a primary reason.

I was the jerk, I guess, the white male who said he would rather go back than forward.

Why?

I guess I like simple and the 1920s seem, to me, like a simpler time. I grew up in an era in which it seemed there was a greater acceptance of common, basic facts. I like that in 1920 nearly everyone cared about baseball, the men wore suits and derby hats and women wore dresses. America had just won World I, that essential invention, refrigeration, had just been made, no one had made, much less dropped, a nuclear bomb, and reading books wasn’t an elitist activity.

I think there is no doubt, too, that my answer was colored by the dim view I increasingly have about our country coming out of the events — and especially our reaction to the events — of 2019.

I mean, will we make it to 2021? I think it is fair, and in no way hyperbolic, to suggest that that is an open question.

The president of the United States withheld Congressionally appropriated money to a fledgling foreign ally in the midst of a war with an adversary (an adversary that attacked us in the 2016 election and continues to threaten the integrity of our elections) until that ally agreed to help him conspire to defeat a political rival, a private U.S. citizen, in the 2020 election. Our president, in other words, bribed a foreign leader for personal gain and to rig an election using public money he was not authorized to withhold.

In response to these acts the president has blocked all relevant documents and the testimony of all key personnel from the branch of our government expressly charged with oversight.

These are the facts. They are undisputed.

And yet we don’t know if at least four members of both parties in our highest deliberative body will so much as agree to call witnesses in the trial that Congress initiated in response to these acts, which, to underscore, are expressly forbidden by the Constitution that is the basis for our rule of law.

I get it: there were lynchings in this country 100 years ago. Women only just got the right to vote in 1920. The list of heinous acts and injustices one could catalog from that time is, to be sure, long. I completely empathize with anyone who can’t fathom voluntarily going back to such a world less than a decade before the Great Depression and generations before the civil rights movement.

Yet! Let’s play this out. One of two things is going to happen as a result of the impeachment trial:

1. The president is not going to be removed from office. In other words, he will receive tacit approval for his actions. Not only will he, but all future presidents (presidents who could be “elected” with the direct assistance of foreign entities comprising the integrity of the single bedrock act that makes America America, a free election), will have the authority to rule without meaningful oversight. They will essentially be able to do what they want (keep in mind some of things the current president has already done — ban Muslims from entering our country, state support for white supremacists, the list here is also long, to say nothing of what he may want to do and may be emboldened to do). Our current system of government will essentially be null and void.

2. The president is going to be removed from office. Does anyone think he will go quietly? Does anyone think his most ardent supporters will act civility? Does anyone think his political allies will not seek retribution?

And that’s just in the next year. The world is burning, A.I. is coming, so is resistance to antibiotics, we have kids in living cages at the border, intellect is seen as suspicious, and is it conceivable we will ever be less dependent on, or controlled by, technology?

I’m glad I was born when I was. As much as it would be fun to see Babe Ruth hit one out, I am not volunteering for life in the roaring ’20s. But 2120 … Americans might have to wear Kevlar everywhere they go, commonly walk past statues of Vladimir Putin, and be subject to whatever the president (i.e., dictator) says.

We have made so much moral and scientific progress in the last 100 years. It would be hard to overstate how much. Yet there is no guarantee we will continue on the same path. There is more than one way to go back. Forward is not always an improvement. I hope I am wrong, completely wrong, about the current trajectory but it’s far from certain that life will be fairer and freer and more comfortable a hundred years from now.