Up from Downton

Without a vision, the people perish.

A most unusual cinematographic event is taking place.  There is a wildly popular television show which, wonder of wonders, your humble correspondent actually enjoys immensely.  Regular readers of this periodical will not be surprised to learn that this is not "Jersey Shore" nor "America's Got (highly questionable) Talent," but rather the British period drama "Downton Abbey."

"Downton Abbey" tells the story of the aristocratic Crawley family in rural England of 1910 and following - roughly the same era as Mary Poppins but a few notches up the social scale from Mr. Banks.  It's somewhat of a soap opera, exploring the personal relationships of the masters, servants, and non-elite relatives.

Perhaps startling for a modern production, family patriarch The Right Honourable Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham, is portrayed in an entirely sympathetic way.  Despite his great wealth and influence, he is honorable, upright, honest, generous and caring to all the servants and tenants within his domain.  Even his rabidly socialistic revolutionary Irish chauffeur admits him to be "a decent man and a good employer."  In fact, a fair amount of the drama is generated by the efforts of the family and servants to prevent Lord Grantham from discovering all too many less-than-honorable truths about his daughters and others he cares about, for fear it would kill him.

Lord Grantham's life revolves around the operation of his estate, the titular Downton Abbey.  In a moving scene with Matthew Crowley, a distant relative and the man who'll most likely inherit because of his own lack of sons, His Lordship says, "You see shingles that break, stones that crack, chimneys that fall down.  I see my lifework."

It's made clear throughout the series that this lifework consists not just of his house but of providing a decent life for everyone in Downton, including healthcare - even rebuking Matthew, who doesn't think he needs a butler, for demeaning that man's choice of career and denying him honest labor.  Matthew makes up for it by working to modernize and improve the estate's farmer housing, earning respect from grateful tenants and His Lordship's love.

Yet as attractive a personage as is Lord Grantham, from our perspective of hindsight we know his life is a waste.  He may die in comfort, but the next Earl's fortune will not survive World War II, estate taxes, and the socialistic England of the 1960s and 70s.  Downton Abbey as an estate will not last another generation - indeed, thousands of great manors were bulldozed to avoid taxes, which is why we see the same handful of great houses in so many different period movies requiring them.

A Man's Reach Should Exceed His Grasp

Lord Grantham, while a good man, has a significant flaw: he has no goals or dreams other than keeping what he's already got.  True, he'll sacrifice anything to achieve that goal, even marrying a wealthy American heiress he didn't love in order to afford essential repairs; but in the final analysis, he wants nothing more than to pass on what he received from his forbears.

Those forbears were made of sterner stuff.  There was a time before Downton Abbey, before the fortune, before the Earldom itself.  Somebody had the enterprise to go out and win a heaping pile of money.  Somebody had the political acumen to obtain a title from the King.  Somebody had the vision to build a vast palace where there was none before.

That blood runs in the current Earl's veins; has he no higher dreams of anything new or greater?  No; and as a result, he and his descendants will ultimately lose what they treasure.

There is more than a whiff of Downton Abbey in Mr. Obama's America.  For a long time now, Americans have been the world's nobility in a very real and deep way.

At one point in the series, one of the housemaids wants to better herself and takes a typewriter course so she can work as a secretary.  When she's turned down for the job she resigns herself to permanent life as a servant.  The Earl's proto-feminist younger daughter tries to buck her up, but the maid observes that their classes are taught to expect different things from life:

"You're taught that if you dream and want something long enough, you'll probably get it.  We know not to chase our dreams too hard because they'll probably never happen."

Doesn't the "noble's perspective" exactly describe the common American dream that's been honored for so long?  For two hundred years, dreams did come true in America.  No, not for everyone all of the time, but often enough to keep everyone dreaming.

For every rags-to-riches story there are a hundred unknowns that never made it beyond the middle class, but without those hundred strivers there would never have been the one success.

Our politics once reflected this view of America as a place for greatness.  Obama's Democratic predecessor John F. Kennedy intentionally reached for a far-fetched science-fictional goal:

We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.  [emphasis added]

And lo, it was achieved.

Kennedy also had other more down-to-earth big dreams:

Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.

But Don't Stop Grasping

Even when Kennedy spoke those words, most of our elites didn't think the Soviet Union could ever be defeated and that we just had to learn to live with the Evil Empire.  By the time of Ronald Reagan, Kennedy's entire party was wholly dedicated to non-confrontation of Soviet tyranny, believing us all to be better Red than Dead.  JFK himself would have been disgusted; imagine their shock, and Kennedy's pleasure from the beyond, when the Berlin Wall finally did fall as JFK had foreseen and Reagan had demanded!

Today, what great vision is presented by our leader?

We can't drive our SUVs and eat as much as we want and keep our homes on 72 degrees at all times...

Mr. Obama has not even the doomed dream of Lord Grantham to at least save what he has for his children.  He wants us to go off gently into that good night of genteel poverty, no better than anyone else.  Even the kindhearted Earl would be roused to fury at such a suggestion, sending the arrogantly defeatist bounder fleeing down the front steps pursued by a furiously waving walking-stick.

It's been true for a long time but Mr. Obama's tenure has made it perfectly plain: The Democrat Party is the party of American decline.  To vote for Mr. Obama or any Democrat is to vote for an America that is, as one of Lord Grantham's maids might haughtily say, "no better than she ought to be" - where people no longer try to rise above their station or dream of better things.

Sad to say, that doesn't mean the Republican Party is the party of American greatness - sometimes we wonder how our so-called conservative leaders manage to get the correct legs in the appropriate side of their trousers in the morning.  But at least they try, and often say the right things; you have to start somewhere.

If you try, you may fail.  If you don't try, you'll certainly fail.  The right solution is not to become reconciled to failure and decline, as Mr. Obama's post-American Democrats would have us do, but to try harder and renew our dedication as that beloved Democrat John F. Kennedy proudly proclaimed.

Forget the fact that modern Democrats have abandoned our shared American principles, culture, and founding documents; they've abandoned the cherished policies of their own party's most honored leaders.  They are orphans, without family, without heritage, without goals, without dreams, deserving only of our pity if not contempt.

Now we just need to ensure that they are without power.  A genteel decline may be the fate of the Crowley family as it was for so many of their real-life peers and indeed their once world-girdling nation and Empire; it need not be so for us.

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other Scragged.com articles by Petrarch or other articles on Society.
Reader Comments

"Mr. Obama has not even the doomed dream of Lord Grantham to at least save what he has for his children. He wants us to go off gently into that good night of genteel poverty, no better than anyone else. ..."

Or, rather, he would have *us* go of gently into that good night of poverty, that he might replace Lord Grantham.

The middle classes are of no use to people of his ilk. The wealthy are, of course, as they can be taxed and demonized and co-opted; and the destitute are as they can be plied with theirs and their fellow citizens' money for votes. The self-sufficient with just enough to lose must be destroyed.

April 10, 2012 7:29 AM

Absolutely brilliant analysis. I love the Downton Abbey TV show and have read many political/social pieces commenting on it, or using it as reference. This one is - by considerable measure - the very best.

April 10, 2012 7:43 AM

Excellent commentary on Downton Abbey. I hated to see it end. A couple of comments, Lord Grantham estate's decline of wealth was inevitable as it did not keep up with the times. In that I mean that the estate was self sufficient and profitable for a good while but when the English people found out that they could buy food from abroad cheaper than they could from the Downton Abbeys of the world their decline was inevitable. Of course the taxes and socialism completed the task of destruction but the Lord did not modernize.

I see they gentle handling of the Granthams as a result of centuries of the caste system that has been so prevalent in Europe. They are of the opinion like the maid's, that there really is no opportunity so why fight it? They have nothing so whatever dole that the government gives them they find a way to scratch out an existence. What they really lack is freedom to fail and a system that rewards the entrepreneur. The democrat party and the northeast wing of the Republican party are leading us down that same path. The northeast Republicans are very similar to Lord Grantham and Downton Abbey.

April 10, 2012 10:37 AM

You didn't complete the Obama quote. He said:

"We can't drive our SUVs and eat as much as we want and keep our homes on 72 degrees at all times ... and then just expect that other countries are going to say OK."

Obama feels that we Americans have to ask permission of other nations to do as we do even if we can afford to do it. His one-worlderism is abhorrent.

He also is putting forth doom and gloom - we can't do as we did any more.

He seems to blame all the world's ills on our wealth. I think he's trying to destroy us so he can feel good about making the rest of the world a little less envious. It would be better for him to offer ways for the rest of the world to become wealthy.

This graph from Wikipedia shows how it COULD go for poor countries if their government officials were interested in actually benefiting the citizens as opposed to ripping them off:


April 10, 2012 6:18 PM

The sad part is that most Americans haven't noticed that Obama is letting our dream die. Worse than that, I think he's trying to kill it on purpose.

April 11, 2012 7:46 PM

Since I like to watch too much British TV, I was watching 'QI' the other day and the panel of rude, atheistic, but hilarious Brits was puzzled by the devotion and reverence that Americans show for their flag. They were completely baffled, and Fry had to explain that since we haven't a monarch in which to invest our pride in sovereignty or nationalism et al that a flag is the only substitute, and they didn't seem to care much about the flag of the UK.

I think we're taking on that mindset, since JFK certainly, since FDR more so, and perhaps since TR. JFK's challenge to stick a man on the moon was certainly right for the times - but why exactly do we need someone to articulate a statement of national purpose in this way? What possible good comes of this collectivist vision? I think it ought to be enough to have a president extoll the virtues of liberty, speak grandly about a thinly veiled threat to our foreign enemies who work at cross-purposes with us, and add a touch of grandiloquence to the proceedings and have that be that. The business of America is their own business, not everyone's.

April 12, 2012 8:04 AM
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