Tony Kushner, the principal author of the screenplay that became Steven Spielberg’s 2012 film, “Lincoln,” includes that suitable and ever-applicable line, delivered by Daniel Day-Lewis’ Lincoln to David Strathairn’s Seward that “Time is a great thickener [or leveler] of things.” It truly is, for all the angst and hand-wringing that we do on a regular basis…time sorts many things automatically. In fact, it was the very phrase FDR used in an unsent letter to Admiral Yamamoto’s widow. Time works out what initially seems to be more than one insurmountable, inescapable problem. Sometimes, the best thing to do really is to let things play out. We will find much sorts itself.
On this day, which is also the day “Ike” Eisenhower passed away 51 years ago, we remember not only an insightful entry from President Eisenhower made in his Diary just over 75 years ago but the wise words he echoes from predecessor Calvin Coolidge, who said: “If you see ten troubles coming down the road, you can be sure that nine will run into the ditch before they reach you.”
Often dismissed as an intellectual lightweight, complacent executive, incompetent leader or worse, “Ike” (#34) shares a number of similarities — some, it seems, he never consciously intended to emulate — with #30, Cal Coolidge. Yet, Ike’s words, written down on March 26, 1955, channel a remarkably comparable outlook to the very same approach the man from Vermont took when it came to problems.
I have so often been through these periods of strain that I have become accustomed to the fact that most of the calamities that we anticipate really never occur. No period was more illustrative of this truth than the six months following the outbreak of our war in 1941. Every prophet in those days was one of gloom. Only two or three of the eventualities that sprang up in the mind or in the imagination came to pass…
We find there is a great truth in the concept that “time is a great leveler” that works out, irons, and smooths many difficulties that we imagine can happen but that find a way to work out and not develop after all. The frenetic anxiety that a Hoover (or one might say, a Truman or LBJ) possessed for Coolidge’s outlook assumes the impossible task that we can know with certitude where the troubles will turn and roll, exactly how the problems will pitch and swerve before they even reach us…and always in the direction of doom. It assumes a perfect knowledge that both Cal and Ike understood no mortal possesses. It doesn’t mean we do not plan ahead, it simply means we keep our focus on current circumstances without getting distracted by everything that might go wrong. We do what we can with the day’s problems. That is all anyone can realistically expect or competently accomplish.