Friday, October 21, 2016

Presidentially rambling

When the Voters’ Pamphlet arrived in the mail this week—I got two of them, lucky boy!—I sat down and seriously pored over one of them. I pulled my worn and tattered precinct card out of my wallet to see which electoral districts I am in, and then began looking for the slate of candidates I could vote for.

Of course, the first pages of candidates were for the candidates for United States President. I have already voted, in principle, and so I knew that there would be nothing in print that was going to change my mind. Sometimes one just knows what’s behind a candidate, regardless of what they try to project.

Click to zoom
All of the candidates for President and Vice-President had written statements. My pamphlet shows six candidates total, two Republican, two Democrat, one Green, and one Libertarian. I don’t know why the Greens and Libertarians aren’t running candidates for Vice-President. What if one of them were to win?

Nonsense! Jill Stein is just flexing her feminist muscle garbed in Pacific Green proclaiming ‘Power to the People’ and other out-of-date clichés. Gary Johnson’s statement claims he is best known for resisting temptation (to solve every problem by throwing money at it), but I remember him for ‘What is Aleppo?’

Truly, I am very sorry for the hams who think they can wiggle their tails backwards into the big chair in the Oval Office, but then, they’ve seen it done before, and everyone should live in hope. The Democratic candidates pushed the same old polite rhetoric on the theme ‘Americans are stronger together.’

A nice truism, but hardly a flag pole around which we can gather for morning prayer. ‘Hillary and I have a plan,’ was the Democratic VP candidate’s intro to an assortment of recycled and partly rehabilitated old political promises which everyone’s heard the last eight years and already forgiven and forgotten.

The Trump and the Pence—sounds like a team for British currency reform!—their two statements, running as Republicans, read almost like a political version of the Nicene Creed, full of ‘Trump believes’ and ‘we need, we must, we will,’ possibly echoing in first person plural Caesar’s ‘veni, vidi, vici.’

It seemed that the Republican presidential and VPal statements, using Trump’s famous ‘Make America Great Again’ as a flag pole—yes, I think we could pray around this one! kumbaya!—spoke of our country’s brokenness and offered a down-to-earth therapy to fix it that would appeal to many voters.

In  contrast, the Democratic statements cheered on the great accomplishments of the incumbent (Democratic) presidency with promises to protect and extend them, starting from a vantage point of an already great America that under our continued management can only become greater. Ahem, yes.

Enough has been batted back and forth about this probably ugliest presidential contest in America’s long history, and everyone who knows me or has the psychic powers of my best friend’s cat already can tell who I’m voting for in this contest, so I only want to make one other observation, my main one.

Perusing the pages of candidates (there is also a hefty section on ballot measures), what struck me as very odd was that many of the offices up for grabs did not have at least two candidates running. Where I live is a blue city in a red state, and the reds almost never win, because we’re all rednecks and cowherds.

No, that’s not why. It’s because enough of us aren’t willing to take on the blue party machine. Admittedly, when people egg your house or threaten you on the street for sporting a Trump sign on your lawn or your laundry, who wants to put their life at risk? No, that’s not the real reason.

And I am not limiting this just to why Republican or local parties aren’t running opposite Democratic candidates. True, one Democratic senator running for reelection has four opponents, but a very high profile Democratic US representative is opposed by a sole fringe party candidate with wild ideas.

Many local offices have but a single, generally Democratic, candidate. I think this is symptomatic of a non-engaged public. Reading the statements of most of the candidates of all parties what I found was a rhetorical casserole of political jargon that might’ve been written by political candidacy helper software.

Where can I buy a copy? Maybe I can drum up a polite plate of promissory pieties that can get me into office, never mind which party, they’re all pretty much the same at the lower level. But here and there, I found a candidate whose statement was written as if by a person really awake, really determined.

Too bad, none of those were people I could vote for, but it still warmed my heart to see that they had the courage to have ideas of their own and run with them. They are, I fervently hope, the first signs of the recovery of our institutions and the restoration of our national spirit, which is one of integrity.

I have integrated some visuals in this essay, strips of pictures of all our presidents, showing their terms of office in years, in days served, and which ones expired or were assassinated in office. Looking at each President singly and at the whole lineage as it continued, I became aware of the devolution of the Office.

The earlier presidents look like men of honor, dignity, truthfulness, faith. If I had lived in their time, perhaps I would read other things from their portraits. As the terms succeed each other, well-known portraits gradually become more ’modern’ like the men they represent, a little less virtuous at times.

Somewhere along the way, the presidents begin to look like what I would call career politicians. This seems absent in most of the earlier presidents, who look instead like patriotic citizens putting their personal and family lives on hold, so they can serve their country. Perhaps this is just an illusion.

Even among the modern presidents, I see faces that remind me of the heroes of the past, men whose leadership really was a kind of painful self-sacrifice, no matter what it appeared to their contemporaries or to later historians. I wonder what impression you will have of these presidential portraits.

Abraham Lincoln
Meanwhile, the election looms near, and it will be a wonder if it doesn’t end up in some kind of crisis.

Will there continue to be a United States,
e pluribus unum, or will the political centrifuge that has started its revolutions blow apart this ‘one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all’?

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