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Inside the cartoon

Sunday in the Park

By Teri Orr
Park Record columnist

It is not visions of sugar plums dancing in my head but there are Russian men dancing in gilt costumes with Cossack boots and real fur hats. Arms not akimbo but rigidly crossed on their chests with fierce expressions. A Russian peasant woman stacking doll that as you open it a different character emerges until the tiniest, tiniest doll inside is some kind of surprise personality… or just the baby.

Eating sugar cookies before bedtime has consequences.

So does ignoring global interference in our government.

I grew up in the Cold War era (which is also how I described my second marriage, but never mind). We practiced how to tuck ourselves under our desks when the air raid signal tests cut through the school day. Not that it would have saved us (we know now) from an atomic bomb, but it was all they could think of to have us do. At home we watched the cartoon Rocky and Bullwinkle, about a moose and squirrel with super powers who were fighting the evil Russian-ish characters of Boris and Natasha who answered to Fearless Leader. They were dumb criminals and spies and Rocky and Bullwinkle were virtuous defenders of all things patriotic.

In researching the show (yes, I am still old school enough to want to fact check myself) I found this little known story from Mental Floss magazine:

“Bullwinkle is originally from the state is Moosylvania, a small island in the Lake of the Woods, and is actually its governor. The ownership of the state is the subject of dispute between the United States and Canada, with each country claiming it belongs to the other. As a publicity stunt, Ward and Bill Scott, the show’s head writer and voice of Bullwinkle, bought a small island on a Minnesota lake, named it Moosylvania and started a national tour and petition drive to campaign for Moosylvania’s statehood. After visiting 50 cities and collecting signatures, they went to Washington to present President Kennedy with their petition. At the White House gate they declared, ‘We’re here to see President Kennedy. We want statehood for Moosylvania.’ They were escorted from the property at gunpoint and didn’t learn until days later that they had shown up during the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis.”

So we’ve been here before.

By the mid-1960s we were being swept away by the majestic film by David Lean that took us inside Russia during the Revolution of the early-1920s. All teenage girls had a crush on Omar Sharif as Dr Zhivago and we all wanted to be the beautiful mysterious Julie Christie as Lara Anipova. To this day when I hear Lara’sTheme — a haunting melody played on music boxes for decades now — it makes me wistful. Those onion-shaped domes on the brightly painted buildings were romantic in a way that belonged to a naively mostly innocent other era.

In high school I learned so many things that had no applicable use in my real life. The dates and names of battles memorized I have never once had occasion to use or even recite at a cocktail party. I was a poor math student who gave birth to a math genius but we have never had a conversation about an algebraic formula. And until this very month, in my whole long life, I have never considered since high school what the function of the electoral college is and how exactly does it work and why. And somewhere along the way — maybe that high school AP English class — I learned the word oligarchy, which Webster defines as “a government in which a small group exercises control especially for corrupt and selfish purposes.”

Which all leads me, logically, to conclude that everything old is new again. We have shifted our focus from sword- wielding desert men wrapped in head scarves to a bare- chested, bear fighting, bald-headed oligarch and now, his cartoon-looking counterpart with orange skin and hair, our president-elect. And we are faced with high level intelligence and no less than our own President Obama this week declaring Russia did, in fact, use cyber weapons to attack us and alter the information and perhaps the actual results in the presidential election.

And here’s where another word from decades past comes into play: “treason.” A word most often understood as an act to overthrow the government of one’s own country. It is a word weighted with threats and actions that can result/has resulted in traitors — even in this country — put to death. Harvard professor Lawrence Lessing, (watch his TED talk) who has spoken for years about election reform has convinced, as of this writing, at least 20 members of the electoral college to NOT vote the way their state populations voted but rather to be “faithless electors” meaning they do not have faith in the candidate that the people did not elect overall by popular vote. There are 538 electors and Trump needs 270-he has 306 committed-but here’s where it gets interesting at 269 (meaning neither candidate would have the majority) . The race is decided by the House of Representatives.

And just to make this all as surreal as it actually is. There is a group now known as the Hamilton Electors, who say they are following Alexander Hamilton’s vision, which is “members of the Electoral College should be free to vote their conscience …for the good of the United States of America.” For those not students of history quick note, Alexander Hamilton, before he was the subject of a multiple Tony award-winning play on Broadway, was a very real person and one of the Founding Fathers of this country who helped create the entire concept of an electoral college. True that.

In my lifetime we have never been faced with so many confluences of history and government swirling together. But here’s what I’m hoping with my whole heart: The government that was created by the people can be saved to continue to lead in a fearless fashion for the people. We live in perilous times which require people of faith to shout out when they feel faithless. Because while this all feels surreal and cartoonish it is as real as the world has ever been. We all need to speak up for all the truths we might think are self-evident. No less than the future of our country depends upon it. Any day is the right day to be brave, even a Sunday in the Park….

Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.


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