Every now and then I’ll turn to Fox News to keep abreast of their continuous brainwashing of the common people, whom God must have surely loved since he made so many of them, as ol’ Abe Lincoln used to say. Not much has changed since that January 6, 2021 field trip to the Capital, a love fest between police and patriots per the Fox retelling. In their latest episode, a parade of self-dealing millionaire Trump sycophants continued to peddle the big lie of a stolen election and baseless claims of voter fraud to angry, aggrieved millionaire hosts who nodded knowingly. All of it transparent theater staged for their faithful fearful audience wondering where have you gone, Mickey Mantle, and the America we all once knew.
My mind drifted once again to that old America of the 1950s, smack dab in the middle of the decade when I was 7, watching the first TV mini-series, a three-parter on the Wonderful World of Disney, Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier. It spawned a #1 record and a national craze for coonskin caps. Overlooked amidst all the fightin’, dyin’, singin’ and animal hats, however, was the portrait of Crockett the politician: a man of principle who famously said, “Be sure you’re right, then go ahead.”
In the film (stream it for a couple of bucks), Davy Crockett is first presented as a fierce Indian fighter for Andrew Jackson’s expeditionary force in Florida. But Davy then eagerly extends a hand to his foes once a treaty is signed.
Returning to Tennessee, he befriends a Chickasaw family evicted from their home by criminals and helps them forcibly retake their land. He then gets elected to Congress in the Jacksonian deluge but parts ways with the President over the Indian Removal Act of 1830 that led to the forcible eviction of over 50,000 Native Americans to reservations west of the Mississippi River.
In a speech that truncated his political career and eventually led him to wander off to the Alamo, Crockett rips up the Indian Removal bill and proclaims: “The Government promises set down in the Indian treaties is as sacred as your own word. Expansion is no excuse for persecutin’ a whole part of our people because their skins is red.” Hmmm…Was the screenplay channeling the zeitgeist of post-war America? Jackie Robinson (1947), Desegregation of the Armed Forces (1948), Brown v. Board of Ed (1954)? The Montgomery Bus Boycott began only six months after the theatrical release of the TV series. [Full Disclosure: My baby brother and me got dragged out of the Farragut Theater on Flatbush Avenue by our dad after doing the whole marathon-repeat-watching thing into the night.]
I looked up the actual speech. Did he actually say all that? Well, he didn’t mention skin color. Because for Crockett, this was all about the indigenous people’s legal right to their land. Here are some excerpts from the remarks of the “Honorable David Crockett” on May 19, 1830, delivered on the floor of Congress, in opposition to the Indian Removal Act (back then, Congressional speeches were transcribed in the third person so I have changed the voice to first person):
I have always viewed the native Indian tribes of this country as a sovereign people…and the United States is bound by treaty to protect them; it is their duty to do so. And as to giving the money of the American people for the purpose of removing them in the manner proposed, I will not do it. I will do only that for which I can answer to my God…
Four counties of my district border on the Chickasaw country. I know many of their tribe; and nothing should ever induce me to vote to drive them west of the Mississippi…
Now, if this is not oppression with a vengeance, I do not know what is…I know the Indians were unwilling to go: and therefore I can not consent to place them in a situation where they would be obliged to go. I can not stand that. I know I stand alone, having, perhaps, none of my colleagues from Tennessee agreeing with my sentiment. I can not help that…
The moment I exchange my conscience for mere party views, I hope my Maker will no longer suffer me to exist. I speak the truth in saying so. And if I should be the only member of the House who votes against the bill, and the only man in the United States who disapproves it, I would still vote against it; and it would be a matter of rejoicing till the day I die…
I have seen much to disgust me here…I have been told that I do not understand English grammar. If that is so, the error is here [touching his head], not here [laying his hand upon his heart]. I never had wealth or education, but I have always had an independent spirit, and I aim to prove it on the present occasion.
It is worth noting that Davy Crockett’s grandparents were killed by Creek and Cherokee warriors – tribes whose relocation he opposed. On principle.
When he lost his Congressional seat, Crockett was almost 50 years old, in debt, separated from his wife, and somewhat adrift according to his biographers, which gave rise to his second famous quote: “I told the people of my District, that, if they saw fit to re-elect me, I would serve them as faithfully as I had done, but, if not, they might all go to hell, and I would go to Texas.”
In the movie, on the night before his death, the long-haired Davy Crockett, known in Congress as an advocate for the poor, sings a song he wrote about his Tennessee home, Farewell, surrounded by an odd assortment of Alamo defenders – a mute Comanche, a professional gambler and shaggy frontiersmen, all clutching rifles. Except for Davy. He’s strumming a guitar. Did the first wave of Baby Boomers channel Davy’s spirit as filtered through this Disney hagiography? I have often wondered. But that speech was real. And it was a lot more forceful than anything said in Washington for some time, especially in this Age of Jackson Part Deux. Davy reminds me of John McCain. A warrior who made peace with his past and in the end, resisted the worst impulses of his party and an imperial President.
Yes, it’s easy to become disgusted with the political scene of late. But the bravery of Liz Cheney, Adam Kinzinger, Brad Raffensperger, Mitt Romney and a handful of other elected Republicans who’ve rejected their party’s craven power-hungry allegiance to a megalomaniacal psychopath, gives me hope. Keep fighting the good fight, Liz and Adam.