In August of 1925 The New York Times estimated 50,000 – 60,000 members of the Ku Klux Klan marched in a parade in our nation’s capital. It was a huge public display of the once-secret group. H.L. Mencken called it “a full mile of Klansmen and their ladies.” The man sitting in the White House, Calvin Coolidge, was a member of the Klan. The president before him, Warren Harding, was also a noted Klansman. The fraternity preaching pure “100 percent Americanism” (anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant, anti-non-white) boasted of five million members – nearly 15 percent of the population in the 1920s. They were in positions of power. They were everywhere. And here they were marching for hours around the National Mall.
If you asked an American living at that time what they thought about the Klan, they would have thought of it as “the way things were.” Having a clandestine Klan standing strong for the interests of Anglo-Saxons and terrorizing minorities was a normal part of living in Jim Crow America, and why would something that widespread ever be any different?
Today the Klan has maybe 5,000 members according to their own reporting, and they’re considered a hate group. They’re fringe on a very mainstream day.
The point is: Things change. Goliaths fall. It happens.
We think of people in the past as having foresight to the future. This way we can, with authority, say what the Founding Fathers would have thought about things like traffic lights. But people living through history (also known as the present) often have a status quo bias. What’s going on right now is it. This is, how it is.
And this is how we’ve viewed the death grip of the NRA on our politics. “Members of Congress have ranked the NRA as the most powerful lobbying organization in the country several years in a row,” brags the NRA’s Wikipedia page citing a 1999 Fortune article. And because whatever gets repeated enough in the Beltway becomes common wisdom: You can’t do anything about the flood of guns on our streets because the NRA is the most powerful lobby in America – ever!