Commentary

Citizen Smith revisited

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Dave Gerard was Crawfordsville mayor in the 1970s and a Wabash alumnus. He was also a successful political cartoonist. One popular cartoon series was Will-Yum, and another featured Citizen Smith as “Everyman” pondering the political and social landscape, local and national.

The ghost of rumpled Citizen Smith comes to mind when fretting about our current landscape. The vivid apparition is Citizen Smith sitting on a curb waving a small American flag and a tiny Christian flag. A parade passes by with many floats displaying diverse and competing banners supporting various causes. Partisans riding the floats shout invitations to Citizen Smith to ride on their float. He aspires to be active in that arc of history people say leads to a promised land. What is he to do?

It seems that many groups want him to join with his American flag of patriotism, or his Christian flag of faith, or both so that the group can highjack his allegiances. Some reach out to drag him from the curb. Each float is crammed with several flags representing several pressure and identity groups. Citizen Smith with his two flags will be just two among many.

Moral tension and frustration arise because Citizen Smith agrees with some positions stated on this float or that — and starts to jump up — but disagrees strongly with content and tone of other messages screamed by leaders, protesters and posters. Some marchers and observers seem good-hearted, but wrong-headed; others seem both wrong-hearted and wrong-headed. Citizen Smith is not a purist or idealist and knows that no position or person is perfect. Nevertheless, his angst builds.

When the final float has passed, he gazes down the parade route and sees flags tossed in the gutter — passion and commitments disposable after public display. He heads home, holding fast to his American flag of patriotism that guarantees the right of everyone to proclaim, support, protest and march peacefully in support of positions, including some wrong-headed ones. He holds fast to the Christian flag of faith that affirms his ability to reason and volition to determine for himself what is true to believe and right to do. Those make him, not Everyman, but Somebody!

His digital diary back home reveals that almost every day, week and month is identified with some group or issue, along with incessant calls to fund organizations and join parades whizzing by at disorienting speed. Some resemble incessant, fraudulent span calls on his telephone. Citizen Smith decides not to march in other people’s parades.

Nevertheless, sitting alone on his porch waving his flags is not sufficient. He does admire people who observe Earth Day by cleaning up Sugar Creek that runs behind his house. He admires even more those who avoid polluting the creek and the park across from his house. He admires those who urge unity by arranging activities that bring people together, and especially those who regularly engage diverse friends.

Doing some specific action to solve problems and avoiding actions that harm the Beloved Community seem to Citizen Smith to be the necessary fundamental evidences of good citizenship and being Somebody in Montgomery County. Surely that is what true patriots and people of sincere faith do.

 

Raymond B. Williams, Crawfordsville, LaFollette Distinguished Professor in the Humanities emeritus, contributed this guest column.

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