The bittersweet victory is a ray of light for the progressive agenda.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” has become a literary cliche today’s culture. It’s something people who quote Walt Whitman about containing multitudes might say with a shrug, instead of the more prosaic, recent iteration; “It is what it is.”
The quote is Charles Dickens, and those two lines happen to be the first in his classic literary work, A Tale of Two Cities.
It is unfortunate that all anyone ever remembers are the first two lines- out of context- because the entire opening paragraph, which is really just one masterpiece of a run-on sentence for the ages, is worth careful review.
The whole thing goes:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way- in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”
Hard not to see shades of the present day in that prescient description, as Dickens somehow knew we would. He was writing in 1859, using a reference work called The French Revolution written by historian Thomas Carlyle in 1837…about events which took place from about 1789–1794.
Still the sentiments expressed in that long sentence resonate as strongly today as they did in 1859, 1837 or 1788- an entire ocean, and oceans of time removed from modern day America.
Dickens began A Tale of Two Cities at time when, “in both countries,” it was, “clearer than crystal to the lords of the State preserves of loaves and fishes, that things in general were settled forever.”
In 1859, Charles Dickens was describing France and England in 1788. Today, in what Dickens might have described as, “the year of Our Lord two thousand and twenty-two,” we might substitute the words, “Texas and California,” and suddenly understand exactly what Dickens meant.
Because of course, “things in general,” were most certainly not, “settled forever,” in the days preceding the French Revolution — no more then than now.
On one hand, it is the best of times for the Democratic Party: This week, the Washington stalemate between Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and progressives was resolved long enough to pass the first meaningful gun control legislation in decades.
“God willing,” President Joe Biden said after signing the bill into law on Saturday morning, “it’s going to save a lot of lives.”
After decrying the gun violence and mass shootings which have stunned the U.S. in recent weeks, Biden touted the bill as a major step in the right direction.
From bereaved families who have lost loved ones to gun violence, President Biden relayed, “their message to us was to, ‘do something’.”
“Well, today, we did,” the President said.
The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act was cobbled together by a group of Democrats and Republicans after a series of mass shootings shook the nation over the past few weeks.
It was passed by the Senate on Thursday, becoming the first significant gun control bill to clear that hurdle almost three decades. In signing the bill into law, Mr. Biden becomes the first President to deliver on gun control since President Bill Clinton signed the Brady Bill in 1994.
“After 28 years of inaction, bipartisan members of Congress came together to heed the call of families across the country and passed legislation to address the scourge of gun violence in our communities,” President Biden said of the bill’s passage on Thursday.
The bill isn’t everything progressives wanted as far as action on gun control, but it is a robust start. Included are the following provisions:
- More thorough background checks for gun buyers under 21.
- $750 million in incentives for states to adopt “red-flag laws” meant to keep guns out of the hands of people deemed “dangerous” by a judge.
- A provision to close the “boyfriend” loophole for domestic abusers.
- Funding for school safety.
- Funding for mental health care.
- Harsher penalties for “straw purchases,” i.e. illegal gun sales and trafficking.
While Democrats were hoping for much more, this win is something gun control activists have been working towards since Columbine.
On the other hand, for U.S. progressives anyway, it is very much like Dickens said: The best of times, and the worst of times.
Alas, the triumphant gun control victory was only too short-lived. It barely made it one news cycle before the Supreme Court upstaged one major accomplishment to deliver another. This time, however, the major accomplishment was laid at the feet of pro-life activists who have been working just as diligently- and, it seems, effectively- for their own cause.
On Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the landmark ruling, Roe v. Wade, which prevented individual states from prohibiting abortion.
Now the bittersweet victory on gun control is tinged with regret that the dangers to Roe were overlooked until it was too late.
It may have seemed to the ruling class in the U.S., just as it seemed to other powerful groups in history, that things in general were settled forever. It may have been that belief which blindsided U.S. lawmakers, just as it blindsided the French Aristocracy.
By turning a blind eye to danger signs flashing over the years and decades, no one understood the urgency to act.
No less an authority that the late Supreme Court Justice and liberal icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg herself warned Roe v. Wade was a house of cards built on a foundation of shaky legal reasoning which might fall spectacularly apart at any moment. For 50 years, pro-choice lawmakers in all 50 states have had ample opportunity to shore-up abortion access in their state.
While there were plenty who considered Roe v. Wade “settled law,” some of the country’s best legal minds and constitutional scholars from both sides of the debate have warned- and correctly- of Roe’s vulnerability.
Now, the Democratic Party must endure a modern tale of two cities: A spring of hope on U.S. gun control; a winter of despair on abortion rights in America.
That most Republicans are enjoying the same weather, same outlook, same forecast- only inverted- should be of some comfort.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)