Bastille Day: A Lesson for Election Year Spit Mongers

Ever notice the people throwing a party when an enemy gets what's coming are the same ones who launch saliva all over you when you disagree with their bumper sticker.


Can you talk about the guy you don't want in the White House without spit flying out of your mouth? If not, Bastille Day, July 14, may be a day worthy of your consideration. I've long thought there's no bigger warning sign for true believers than the ensuing Reign of Terror.

We've all seen the crazies. They're the ones who go all insane-asylum when they talk about the elections, or complain about the tea baggers, the liberal left,—or name your ist, er, or ism.

As editor for our little ole green city's Patch site, I've come across my share. I'm not singling Greenbelt out, though, it's a national disease. And I wager we have more decent folk per square green mile here, than in any cement-infested city in America.

But there's a penchant among true believers—whether forest lovers or city dwellers—to go around waving high ideals while chopping heads off.

That's what happened in France. After the storming of the Bastille fortress, prisoners were freed, tears were cried, let-them-eat-cakers were ousted (okay, I know it's dubious that Marie Antoinette actually said that).

Shouts of "liberty, equality, fraternity," filled the air and a powerful leader arose. A leader who's just the type we may find ourselves strapped with one day if we continue down America's thriving road of reactionary politics.

I'm talking about Maximilien Robespierre, dubbed "The Incorruptible", a man known to refuse bribes—pure and clear as the ice in Superman's castle.

Ice, aye, there's the rub. He was sub zero when it came to his opponents. He launched mass executions in his quest for the rights of man. And swarms of liberty's true believers swelled around him.

We're talking about believers who were also just ordinary people with good intentions—the ladies you'd enjoy sipping tea with while discussing fashion, those neighbors who always mow their lawns and watch your house while you're away.

Yet tens of thousands of heads rolled while these nice people watched and celebrated—practically turning executions into festivals. The infractions of the doomed? Well they were "enemies of the revolution," some may have been remotely associated with nobility, others were nobility, some simply didn't agree with Robespierre and his Jacobin Club buddies' ideas.

Okay, I admit, this isn't happening in my neighborhood or yours, but the attitude that caused the terror is no stranger to America. 'Not so,' you say. Then I take it you've never waved and shouted with glee when one of America's opponents met with disaster—and you don't joke about turning your power off when a death-row prisoner is up for electrocution.

'Well that's different,' you say, 'they're evil.'

Really? Was Tammy Faye Baker evil when she cried and sang a hymn on the courthouse steps after Jim was convicted. America practically threw a party over that one.

Watch "The Eyes of Tammy Faye" documentary and ask yourself if you helped to kill a mockingbird.

I admit some people do evil, and I'm relieved when they get stopped. But throwing a party over it is scary. You may notice, the ones laughing and dancing when someone gets it, are the same ones who launch saliva all over you when you disagree with one of their bumper stickers.

I worry for us when I see this kind of jubilation over an opponent's disaster. I also get uncomfortable when I hear good folks demonizing people with different views. That's what Robespierre did, and it didn't stop there. He and the friends of the revolution eventually began gobbling each other up as the terror continued—unleashing their "righteous" wrath with the fury of tropicals crammed together in a fish tank.

Now let me not rain all over Bastille Day. Don't get me wrong, the Reign of Terror is one bad chapter in a book chock-full with pages of glory.

But when it comes to the French Revolution, well, as Chales Dickens said, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times," and for the record, Bastille Day was part of that best of times.

America could do itself a favor, though, and look at some of the events that followed on its heels. Maybe not everyone who disagrees with us is the anti-Christ.

My hunch is the ones following whoever or whatever the anti-Christ is will be true believers getting all foaming at the mouth over liberty and justice for all. I for one, don't want to be among them. But if high ideals aren't tempered with mercy, one day it won't be President Obama or Mitt Romney in that big white house on the hill—beware Robespierre cometh.

Jim Link July 19, 2012 at 02:49 PM
Thank you Bailey Henneberg for your good humored history lesson about the boomerang effect of the French Revolution -- initial rapture leading to the Terror. A small factoid -- I've heard that chic French women wear guillotine earrings on Bastille Day as a fashion accessory.....oh my!
Bailey Henneberg July 19, 2012 at 09:16 PM
Guillotine earrings, you can't be serious—but I'm afraid you are! Good hearing from you Jim, as always.


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