“Things are more like they are now than they’ve ever been.”
“If Lincoln were alive today he’d roll over in his grave.”
“The political lesson of Watergate is this: Never again must America allow an arrogant, elite guard of political adolescents to by-pass the regular party organization and dictate the terms of a national election.”
Ford, like Yogi Berra, was noted for his nonsensical statements that somehow made sense. The last quote makes sense today as much as it did then.
Calamity Jane was a real character from the late 1800s.
The facts and fiction of Calamity Jane’s life are impossible to separate, and no one knows exactly how she got her nickname. Some thought it was because so much of her life was marked by calamity while others think it was because wherever she went there was trouble.
It doesn’t matter. This is not exactly about Martha Jane Cannary.
What this is about is the perceived constant threat today of calamity. That perception has come through an unusually severe hurricane season with three major hurricanes to date.
It has threatened to fall upon us throughout the campaign and presidency of Donald John Trump.
The reemergence of white supremacist hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis and other segments of the Alt Right has frightened not just people of color, but caring Americans of all stripes.
It characterizes the crass and morally indefensible actions of a Republican controlled Congress, a legislative body that threatens to take away healthcare for tens of millions of Americans.
Our current leader of the free world may get us into World War III. His talk is past saber rattling, threatening “fire and fury” to another unstable, megalomaniac national leader.
So, this is the worst time in history, right? As unsettling as it may seem it seems so because the world has been at relative peace for seventy-two years. Generations have grown up now without the threat of instant annihilation or invasion of its borders by a foreign army.
This hurricane season seems like the worst in history because we have just lived through a period without much hurricane activity. The last season like this one was that of 2004. In addition to three major hurricanes that never made landfall, there were four tropical storms that did and three category four or five hurricanes: Charley, Frances and Jeanne. Jeanne killed thousands of people in Haiti before making landfall in the U.S. and in total the 2004 season caused “at least 3,270 deaths and about $57.37 billion in damage.”
The worst season on record was that of 1880. “…there were two tropical storms, seven hurricanes, and two major hurricanes” (category 3 or more). It is likely that this undercounts the number of storms because only storms that made landfall or encountered ships at sea were recorded then.
Calamity Jane was 28 in 1880 and probably unaware of any of these storms. She is thought to have been in Deadwood at the time although it is nearly impossible to separate fact from fiction where her life is concerned.
What is known is that, born in Missouri, she was orphaned at age 12 in Salt Lake City, was tall and strong and did work usually left to men, and at age 18 began dressing as a man. She was a sharpshooter, horsewoman of renown and may or may not have been a prostitute, an army scout, had a dalliance with Wild Bill Hickok, nursed smallpox victims in Deadwood, or had a daughter. Like storms in the Atlantic in 1880, there was no record, only rumor.
In terms of world calamity, the invasions of the Mongolian marauders, Genghis Khan and Attila the Hun as well as the outbreaks of the Black Death across Asia and Europe are much worse than anything in recent recorded history. The slave trade between Africa and the Americas has to be regarded as a calamity that is still being felt. The 1930s and ‘40s in Europe were worse than anything we are experiencing today.
Knowing any of this may not make you feel better.
Victims of any number of tropical cyclones will be sure that their experience was the worst.
Descendants of slaves are sure that the African slave trade was the worst calamity in history.
Relatives of Jews who died in German concentration camps may be sure that their genocide was the worst calamity of all time.
What may be worse than actual calamity is anticipated tragedy. Calamity Jane probably was unaware of hurricanes. It is pretty clear that she was illiterate and she had real personal tragedy to deal with. She was spared the worry of bad news that happened far away to other people. She really did live through a smallpox epidemic in Deadwood. She really did become the head of the family at age twelve. She really did ride hard, live hard, drink hard, and die at fifty-two.
Tip O'Neil is quoted as saying that all politics is local. By the same token all tragedy is personal.
I guess this was about Calamity Jane.