Carl Sandburg’s “Four Preludes on Playthings of the Wind” includes two stanzas describing how cities and nations were built by “strong men” who “paid singers to sing and women to warble: We are the greatest city, the greatest nation, nothing like us ever was.”

But, Sandburg continues, “while the singers sang and the strong men listened…and felt good about it all, there were rats and lizards who listened…and the only listeners left now…are…the rats…and the lizards.” (published 1922).

Obviously, his poem doesn’t look at rats and lizards as being a worthy part of the creation with its vast variety, the circle of life that gives and takes due to predetermined characteristics. Some people have rats as pets, and some lizards, also considered pet-worthy, provide important roles in the environment.

Sandburg, rather, sees rats and lizards as vicious pests, crouching behind the walls or slithering underneath the floors, lying in wait to feed on other life forms or vital sources of sustenance. Indeed, rats have been known to attack infants in their cribs in slum areas of cities. As a young teenager on my grandparents’ farm, when chores were caught up, one pastime was to go to the corn crib and shoot the rats that had taken up residence there.

Those were what Sandburg had in mind when referencing rats and lizards. Or, in other words, humans without any sign of a conscience who, like some animals, are motivated by fight or fright, who if the perceived opponent is bigger, run away, or if smaller, attack as prey.

Who can deny that our country’s recent history has been led by a lack of morality more akin to rats and lizards? The 43 Senators who voted to acquit the former president, never mind a compelling factual case as to his guilt that was clearly laid out, comprise an example of running away in fright leaving any semblance of a moral conscience rotting on the floor. The thousands who attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6, were following and obeying their Commander and Chief, the head of the pack, when they overtook the Capitol Police, violently breaking down doors and windows, barging into that house like rats as if it contained an infant in its crib, vowing to slay any of our legislators they could get their hands on. All while the former president, instead of leading the charge, stayed safely away, all nestled alongside his television as if he were experiencing intimacy as never before.

I mourn the loss of conscience and tendency toward violence. Blindly, it seems, Trump’s followers acted without any thought given to how their actions are destroying our nation. Tyrants’ tactics include preying on folk, using fear and blame to assemble armies of mindless conquest. The preyed upon become the rats in a corn crib attacking vital sources of health and wholeness in society.

I mourn the loss of conscience and abhor the tendency toward violence. Blindly, it seems, Trump’s followers acted without any thought given to how their actions are destroying our nation. Tyrants’ tactics include preying on folk, using fear and blame to assemble armies of mindless conquest. The preyed upon become the rats in a corn crib attacking vital sources of health and wholeness in society.

Jim Norton

Fairmont

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