When I was young, westerns were really big — big in the movies and big on TV. But eventually the western faded in popularity, gradually being replaced by other genres. Western heros gave way to cops, martial artists, super heros, machines, fantasy creatures, anti-heros, hedonists and the scum of society. Eventually the cowboy was left out in the cold, shivering in a bum wrap. Society had changed. A President was excoriated for his cowboy attitude — something everyone was supposed to assume was bad, a fault akin to being a cave man or the Marlon Brando character in The Wild One. Yet even bikers, pirates and gangsters seem to have a better rep than the lowly cowboy.
On my wall I have photos of the three cowboys I liked best when I was a kid. There’s Roy Rogers, a Christian, who always ended his TV show by saying, “And may the good Lord take a liking to ya!” Then, there’s Gene Autry, who like Roy, was noted for being a real-life singer as well as for the character he played of a resolute champion for law and justice. The third is Hopalong Cassidy, who, while pursuing the bad guys, often entered saloons but always drank milk. These three men were not just entertainers. Each one knew he was a role model and took care to portray his character as such. You never saw them smoke, drink, spit, cuss, chew, cheat, disrespect women or in any way blur the line between right and wrong. They always fought fair and gave everyone a second chance.
Despite their ability to duke it out with the toughest of bad guys, these cowboys were essentially gentle in spirit, but willing to stand up and fight for a righteous cause. In many ways they typified the American ideals of liberty and self-reliance. They loved life and respected the environment; they honored their country and took their civic obligations seriously; they loved people, valued community and respected everyone’s rights. When I was a kid, they were my heros. But time passed and a new generation discarded the cowboy for a whole new set of values. Now, cowboys are the bad guys. And a society who feels that way isn’t even aware of the great loss it has suffered.
But some things never change. Liberty and justice are still threatened worldwide. And in an age of electronic community, it seems as if every day brings some new story that assaults our sense of right and wrong. I wish those cowboys were back in the saddle again. You could count on them to break up a lynching, talk sense to a riled-up mob and calm things down. But the society I live in seems to be clueless. Plenty of folks got their dander up by watching a recent murder trial. Outraged by the suspicious death of an innocent toddler, as if they were a lynch mob in the old west, they demand revenge on the lying, irresponsible mother. The media has played the role of rabble rouser, fanning the flames of the mob’s passion. It’s just like a scene from an old western.
Is this what we want to be as a society? Do we want so-called journalists to get so caught up in their emotions that they are incapable of objective reporting? Do we want commentators to choose adversarial tactics in an attempt to skew an argument to their own bias? Are we only capable of talking faster, yelling louder, ignoring and interrupting those with whom we disagree, just to win a heated argument? Does might make right? Have we all become thugs?Have we forgotten how to behave as civilized adults? If we cannot communicate rationally and considerately, how can we resolve any of our differences? Have we forgotten the folly of the Watts riots of 1965? Blacks, angry at the perceived racism of police ended up destroying their own neighborhood, injuring over a thousand persons and killing 34. They certainly didn’t get the justice they wanted. Rather, they foisted more injustice throughout their community. But apparently this is what today’s society wants: get even, regardless of the cost.
What does that say about our respect for the legal system? The jury found the mother not guilty of murder. They found that the evidence fell short of proving the charges. So, that upset those who had already prejudged the mother to be guilty. And because of their mob mentality, they now are focusing their anger and their thirst for blood at the jurors. They will not be happy until they’ve brought down the whole legal system. All because they were denied their revenge. It’s a lynch mob, pure and simple.
When you think of this one murder trial, or any murder trial, for that matter, you realize that while it represents a devastating, life altering experience for the families and friends of those involved, it has a very limited effect on the lives of most Americans. In a much less significant way, the community is also affected, but mainly in terms of crime statistics. It takes an accumulation of murders in a given area to really impact society at large. There are so many other issues today that universally impact the lives of Americans and American communities in a more significant way. Consider this partial list, off the top of my head. I am sure many more could easily be added.
President Obama forcing us deeper into Pan-Leninism
Illegal drugs and associated crime
Terrorism and politically directed wars
Eminent domain law
The national debt, our trade deficit and our currency
Small business regulation
Private gun ownership
Misinterpretation of the doctrine of Separation of Church and State
Freedom of speech vis-a-vis the burning of flags and books
Pornography protected as freedom of speech
Homosexuality protected as a special minority
The stupidity of “hate crimes” law
International law vis-a-vis our Constitution
Shariah law vis-a-vis our Constitution
Freedom of religion vis-a-vis “Kill the infidel”
[Please remember the beheadings, the innocent school children blown up in their buses, bodies of U.S. servicemen dragged through streets — not to mention 911– all compliments of the “religion of peace”.]
These are the kinds of social issues that influence everyone’s lives. But the verdict of a single murder trial, no matter how it stirs up the public, does not have any influence on society. It is the very honor and dignity of our social institutions that is at stake. Those institutions house the treasure of our civilization: treasure such as respect for the rule of law, not of men; treasure such as the presumption of innocence, not the demand for vengeance; treasure such as legal determinations made in courts of law, not in the media or public opinion. Such treasure, preserved within the structure of our institutions, rests soundly on a foundation we call the Constitution. It is this foundation, this treasure — our very institutions themselves — that will be the hapless victims of what is tantamount to an unruly mob. Is that really what society wants?
As it says in Ecclesiastes 1:9, “There’s nothing new under the sun.” We’ve always had to battle various troubles, and those troubles will continue in the foreseeable future. But now, something is missing — something that used to be an influence for good. Can’t you feel it? It’s as if our leadership has become so artificially “inclusive” that there is no longer a line drawn between right and wrong. It’s all relative. Our leaders have made so many revisions and exclusions to what is acceptable behavior, that society has had to lower its standards in order to comply. Society’s morals have eroded to the point that what used to be immoral is now OK and what used to be seen as moral is now considered judgmental, uptight, bigoted, uninformed, backward and primitive.
Has our society become so confused, so disoriented as to think a court of law is the bad guy? If someone blames the jury, judge or lawyers, and goes along with the mob calling for revenge, haven’t they become the bad guy? If the public is too worked up to listen to plain horse-sense, how will all this frenzy end? Will mob rule win the day? After hearing so many shrill invectives, I need to be reassured that we don’t have to string somebody up just to satisfy a need for revenge. I want to believe in our legal system. It may have its faults but it’s what we’ve got. What we all really want is to live our lives the way we see fit and let our neighbors do the same. Does the Casey Anthony verdict even come close to threatening that? Where are the cowboys, now that we need them?