From a World at War to the Triumph of Freedom 1914-1989
by William J. Bennett
I've been reading this book very slowly, dipping in whenever current events makes the world seem chaotic and uncertain. So that's been a lot lately.
The great thing about history is that it reminds us there have always been chaotic, uncertain times and that we've endured, we've come out ok in the end. William Bennett's volumes on American history are even handed, easy to understand, and yet comprehensive. I came out understanding better those figures who I'd previously disliked, and in some cases even having a certain new respect for them. Those who I already liked were shown to me "warts and all" so I had a greater understanding of their complexity as people and leaders.
This history ends with Ronald Reagan and I was reminded that he was viewed in much the same way as Donald Trump is now. That is not to say Reagan and Trump are the same but our reactions as a people were surprisingly similar in their strength and alarm. That in itself was a good bit of context. The "olden days" are calm and easy to take only because we weren't the ones living then.
And yet we are a resilient people, caretakers of a blessed nation. It has become a commonplace that we always rise to the occasion in this country. That is still true. And we surprise ourselves, never knowing with exact certainty from whence our next leader or hero will come—good reason to respect and defend one another as Americans, as fellow countrymen dedicated to a great proposition.
Allow me a few simple illustrations. If you were sitting in a saloon in 1860, and someone told you that while he did not know who would win that year's presidential election, the next elected president after him was right then a little known leather tanner in Galena, Illinois, he would be laughed out of the saloon. But then came Ulysses S. Grant. If you were sitting at Franklin D. Roosevelt's inauguration, in 1933, and someone told you the next president was a little-known judge in Jackson County, Missouri, he would have been made to look the fool. But then came Harry S. Truman. If you were a political consultant in California in 1950 watching the bitter Senate race between Richard Nixon and Helen Gahagan Douglas (where Nixon labeled Douglas "the pink lady"), and you said that actor Ronald Reagan (who was then campaigning for Douglas) would someday be a Republican president and would crush the Soviet Union, your career would have been over.