Jabez Stone was a New Hampshire farmer. The time was before the Civil War. Things weren’t going well for him. Boulders emerged in his fields, his potatoes got the blight, his corn went to the borers, his horse got spavins, his wife and children were sick, and he couldn’t afford to feed them.
Working hard in his field he broke his expensive and new plowshare. Emotionally struck, he swooned down to the earth on his hands and knees and cried, “I vow it’s enough to make a man want to sell his soul to the devil!”
Soon a tall, thin man alighted from a modish buggy. He introduced himself as Mr. Scratch. Oddly, his teeth were filed to points, and when he held a cup of cold water it boiled. They made a deal for the mortgage on Stone’s farm, and for his soul. This was a legally binding contract, and would run for a decade.
Well, it’s said that Stone’s cows soon fattened, his crops became the envy of the region, his kids did better, and even his wife is said to have become something pretty good to look at.
At that time, the most powerful man in the United States was Daniel Webster. He was a lawyer and a politician. He combined eloquence and persuasion with a booming voice. It’s often avowed that he singlehandedly held the Union together. But his greatest debate came at the end of his client Stone’s decade of good times; yes, the devil had come to claim his rightful property.
During the trial, Webster couldn’t outmaneuver the devil’s clear proof of valid title to the deed, on the now much more valuable farm, and for his client’s soul. This was the hardest judge and jury Webster had ever faced. Webster took a deep breath, then cleared his throat, and began speaking humbly and calmly.
He first alleged that the devil had no legitimacy here as he was a “foreign prince,” and no foreigner could deprive a U.S. citizen of his property and soul. He talked about, also, what makes a country a country, and a man a man. Still, it looked like Webster wasn’t going to win this one.
When the jury returned from deliberation, the foreman announced, “We find for the defendant, Jabez Stone. Perhaps ‘tis not strictly in accordance with the evidence, but even the damned may salute the eloquence of Mr. Webster.”
Though I’ve come to live in Wyoming, it happens I was born in New Hampshire, during a blizzard, so I grew up and heard a number of versions on the above. What I’ve written is based on Stephen Vincent Benét’s short story, “The Devil and Daniel Webster”.
In these blizzardy political times, when I think about how Wyomingites and Americans voted on November 8th, 2016, I’m reminded of Jabez Stone. Prior to election day, good people all over Wyoming, and throughout the nation, grumbled that they didn’t like either choice, alleging that Clinton was sneaking and corrupt, without, however, having any specifics. The teeth of Russian-backed fake news had bitten deeply.
Meanwhile, these same people cited Trump’s offensiveness, his cowardly bullying, his boorish ignorance of government, history, and our Constitution, and his flaunting of laws and conflicts of interests, his approval of torture and even nuclear warfare. No fake news about it, he just said it.
Additionally, they showed tremendous ingratitude in ignoring Trump’s vow to do away with regulations protecting clean air and water, two things that have been making life better for all of us for nearly half a century. In short, Wyomingites, and a minority of Americans, made a deal with the devil.
This devil I speak of is an amalgamation of several people, including the “foreign prince” Vladimir Putin, Trump himself, and members of his inner circle, such as fake-news conspiracy theorist Stephen Bannon, lawless Jeff Sessions, science denying Scott Pruitt, and most of the rest.
Surely, like Jabez Stone, Wyomingites with their fossil-fuel leaning economy, heard Trump say exactly what they wanted to hear; a quick fix for right now. As the roughnecks say, “Please God, just send me one more boom. I promise not to mess it up this time.”
Now, however, some two-and-a-half months into Trump’s presidency, it’s obvious that he’s the worst president we’ve ever had. The cows are not fattening, the crops won’t improve, and the schoolhouse is out of money.
2017 is going to be the hottest summer on record, and I’m not talking about the weather.