Marion, aka my father, became the wizard of Thompson Road when he brought home this monster metal box with a 7 inch TV screen and the whole neighborhood watched the 1948 Indianapolis 500. Child wise there was Nancy, Bud, Sis, Sue and me playing cowboys and Indians as seen on 7 inch TV. Easter egg hunt and Halloween at the Society of Friends and sled riding down the only slope in the road. The quilting bee ladies added that Norman Rockwell ambiance to my childhood until June 1950 when Marion announced that we were all moving to the big city, Cincinnati.
WHEN TOCQUEVILLE CAME TO CINCINNATI
Alexis and his buddy Beaumont arrived by steamship on a cold as hell 24th of November 1831. They talked with Cincinnati lawyer Salmon P. Chase, who was to become Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, a Justice McLean and Dr. Drake. Alexis tried to test their faith in democracy. Chase, the fly in the ointment of Abe’s cabinet, was the Hillary Clinton elitist snob of his day and declared the deplorables messed with his rule of the righteous.
McLean however, saw Andrew Jackson’s campaign against the Second Bank of the United States as the best example of the ordinary population defending itself against a privileged elite.
Cincinnati was, as Damrosch writes, what Tocqueville had been waiting for: “A city with hardly any past, in dizzying transition, inventing itself with ferocious energy.” Tocqueville himself spoke of encountering “a democracy devoid of limits and measures.” “What we encountered there,” he wrote, “is all the good and bad of American society set out in bold relief.”
Alexis was impressed with the industriousness of the city and asked why there was nothing but trees on the Kentucky side? Chase, the elite, McLean, the populist and Dr. Drake were in complete agreement that the Ohio River, the Mason-Dixon Line, clearly illustrated the differences in the South’s slave economy versus the North’s free enterprise system.
WHAT MAKES A STRONG CIVIL SOCIETY?
Alexis got back on the boat to Louisville declaring that Democracy in America had shown him that the middle classes can govern the state and he regarded Cincinnati (pop. 25,000) as a place of ‘absolute social equality.’
While among us, government meddles in everything, here there is not, or appears not to be any government at all. Alike the virtues and defects of centralization are seemingly unknown; there is no mainspring regulating the machine’s moving parts.
THE POWER OF COMMUNITY ASSOCIATIONS
Ever since Lincoln was shot, America’s farmers, manufacturers and merchants have tried to curry favor with the emperor and his entourage, by organizing themselves in associations. Alexis de Tocqueville, in 1835, came to the then 25 States, interviewed 200 business and political leaders, went back home and wrote his seminal work, “Democracy in America.” Tocqueville attributed America’s success in creating a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, to 1) associations of like-minded individuals, 2) a fresh start in the new world and 3) no interference from a powerful church. The United States and Mexico both were start-up constitutional democracies The Catholic Church divided the power with their colonial governments, whether they were democracies or dictatorships. Karl Rove’s Christian coalition is an example of the damage that can be done when religion is used to win an election. However, the power behind the Yankees, was their need to form associations of individuals united in a common cause. These networks of local citizens were then able to speak with one voice, on issues that were important to their members.
A SECULAR SENSE of BELONGING
At age fifty, following my mid-life crisis I joined Kiwanis, Lions, Toastmasters, and the late ‘30’s self-help group Alcoholics Anonymous. The Follett Lions Club was the Chamber of Commerce and the only non-denominational group in population 459, Follett, TX. ‘Vernie’ Schoenhals was the only farmer member and he was retired. We had the Texas A&M, PhD economist – I billed him as ‘the Alan Greenspan of the Prairie” – do an analysis on what the community could do to save itself from extinction. His well thought out answer was that we had a good transportation system – we could leave town by US 15 or hop a freight train. I could have called in a priest to give us ‘last rights’ but the Baptist majority wouldn’t have gone for it.
YUPPIES EXIT THE LOOP
I joined Sugar Speaker Toastmasters when Shelby returned us back to Houston, to practice my, “why you should drive fifty miles out in the country for a $12 gallon of goat’s milk.” Maybe I should have joined the Optimist Club but as it turned out, talking out loud to your friends and fellow members has similar benefits to AA and group therapy that Kiwanis, Rotary, Lions and the Optimists can’t provide. Around midway in my stay at Sugar Speakers, Toastmasters International, began promoting itself as the world leader in both communications and leadership skills training.
WALKING THE TALK IN CHINA
In China, I was not self-conscious about my dancing, communication and leadership skills because nobody from my cultural group was watching. There are 300 million young adults (80 percent women, average age 24) who hunger and thirst for the Toastmasters oral English communications and leadership opportunity. Why? So they can get a good job, make money and see the world.
The Grange Society is dead, domestically Lions, Kiwanis and Rotary are, ‘on the ropes’ only AA (recovery of self) and Toastmasters (self realization) are growing at home and abroad. At Sugar Speakers, the membership is comprised of merchants of service (engineers, consultants, accountants, insurance, etc.), while the membership of Beijing Advanced, Yellow River, On The Way and Middle Kingdom is primarily merchants of educational services and manufacturers of technology hardware and software.
Tocqueville attributed America’s success in creating a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, to 1) associations of like-minded individuals, 2) a fresh start in the new world and 3) no interference from a powerful church.
China Toastmasters brought Tocqueville’s American success story to 1) 300 million like-minded individuals who wanted to communicate in English, 2) a fresh start in a 1.4 billion communist country with no Civil Society. 3) no interference from a powerful church of any kind.