Ken Burns has a new documentary series, about Prohibition.
Lori Sturdevant shows her ability to tease the wrong lesson out of history – or, more accurately, the lesson she wants her less-informed readers to find:
[The series] doesn’t pound on the lessons for today that spring from the nation’s disastrous ban on the sale and purchase of alcohol between 1920 and 1933. It did not need to.
The roots of Prohibition the series identified are still visible. Moralists still try to tell other people how to conduct private lives.
And other “moralists” respond to conflict by trying to get big government to impose utopia on the “enemy”.
“There’s a chance the children of immigrants – or gun-clinging Jeebus freaks – might believe things that are inconvenient to those who control society; let’s centralize and standardize education under the government!”
scare us aren’t how civilized people settle their problems; let’s ban them from the highest level possible!”
“We don’t like too much (of our opponents’) money in politics; let’s create federal laws to make sure elections are unpolluted by (our opponents’) money!”
In small towns — the “real America,” in Sarah Palin’s parlance — many people still look askance at urban habits. Americans of longer standing still wish immigrants would change their ways.
And the fact that all people are “we-ists” mean that it will ever be thus; that people, including urban people, will intrinsically trust people who are more like them, and be less sympathetic to people less like them.
Prohibition’s message for 2011 in Minnesota and the rest of the nation seems to be a warning: Allow these roots to sprout and grow, and the consequences could well be unpredictable and undesirable.
And the other, bigger, real-er lesson? The “we-ist” with the printing press gets to decide which ‘we-ists” get called ‘good” and “noble” and “upstanding”, and which don’t.
Well, they did, anyway.