Finally, My Thoughts about the 2016 Election
Rarely am I without words. However, I admit it, since Wednesday morning, November 9 I have been almost speechless about the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States. I did not expect it to happen; I hoped and prayed it would not happen. It did happen.
Unlike many people around the world, I did not stay awake to watch the election results on television. I turned to a national network news channel just briefly enough to see that a major state with many Electoral College votes was tilting toward Trump. That was enough to send my mind spinning. I went to bed and tried to sleep but tossed and turned all night—out of anxiety.
When I finally awoke from a mostly restless night I turned on the television and saw and heard the shocking news. Here is how my mind heard it even though no television talking head said it: “American elected a barbarian as its president.” Most of the pundits I respect and read—from across the political spectrum—bemoaned and bewailed the candidacy of Trump and described the prospect of his election to the highest office in the land, possibly the most powerful office in the world, in almost apocalyptic language—conservative commentator George Will included.
*Sidebar: The opinions expressed here are my own (or those of the guest writer); I do not speak for any other person, group or organization; nor do I imply that the opinions expressed here reflect those of any other person, group or organization unless I say so specifically. Before commenting read the entire post and the “Note to commenters” at its end.*
I have read a great deal about American presidents over my lifetime and I have lived through the presidencies of twelve men. I have studied not only them but all previous presidents. Years ago I even read a book about presidential candidates who lost their elections. (It is titled They also Ran by Irving Stone.) I tried to remember a time in American history when a serious presidential candidate, nominee of a major political party, was as controversial and unqualified—in terms of ever having served in either the military or elected or appointed public office—as Trump. I tried to remember a time in American history when any such person was as publicly vulgar, offensive to large swaths of humanity, and demagogic as him. And when such a person seemed only interested in power and not the common good of humanity and of all Americans.
Some have compared Trump with Andrew Jackson, but I don’t think the comparison holds up. Jackson was rough, no doubt about it. But, to the best of my knowledge, he never stooped to the language and tactics of our American president-elect.
I lived through the candidacy, campaign, election and presidency of John F. Kennedy, one of the most admired of past presidents. I well remember, though, how controversial his candidacy and presidency was. I remember some evangelical Protestants, for example, saying that if he were elected America would be ruled by the Pope and we would never have any but Catholic presidents again. And yet, most who strongly opposed him could at least admit, had to admit, that he was qualified otherwise.
I lived through the presidencies of Eisenhower and Nixon. Talk about controversial! Eisenhower, of course, was widely admired and respected and yet some portions of America considered him a “dupe of the communists.”
When I was in high school I briefly worked for a small business owner who was a member of the John Birch Society. I had to listen to numerous lectures by him—to employees and customers—about the virtues of George Wallace and his running mate Curtis LeMay. As the 2016 U.S. presidential election unfolded George Wallace was the only serious presidential candidate with whom I could compare Trump. (In the 1968 election Wallace ended up winning only five states and garnered only about ten million votes, but for a time many observers and commentators thought he might win the election or at least win enough electoral votes to throw the election into the House of Representatives.)
Throughout the 2016 U.S. presidential election I could not resist comparing Trump with Wallace. And when I awoke on Wednesday, the day after the election, I immediately thought to myself “We have elected a George Wallace our president.” Of course I know the differences; they are too numerous to mention here. One glaring difference is, of course, that at least Wallace had held public office. But the similarities are, to my way of thinking, too strong and stark to avoid comparison. They have mainly to do with style and approach to politics. I call it “demagogic populism”—appeals to the worst sides of human nature and promises to destroy the established political order without clear and reasonable plans for what to replace it with. And, of course, I see parallels in their personalities. Both seem to me narcissistic and hateful toward anyone who disagreed/disagrees with them and to significant portions of humanity.
So, in brief, in my opinion, we Americans have elected ourselves a man much like George Wallace—a demagogic populist who appeals to the hateful side of humanity, makes extreme promises he cannot keep (Wallace promised to throw all the Washington bureaucrats’ briefcases into the Potomac River), and lacks all evidence of serious-minded, thoughtful concern for the common good of all Americans (to say nothing of humanity).
So the big question I face right now is whether I can hold to my personal policy of respecting the President of the United States just because of the office he holds. Could/should I have done that had Wallace been elected in 1968? I do not think so.
The “big issue” for me, with both candidates, was and is character. Can/should I respect a U.S. president whose character is so obnoxious, offensive and disgusting that the only word I can think of to describe it is “barbaric?” I doubt it. We have had many presidents who were adulterers, but none, to the best of my knowledge, who publicly boasted about his sexual conquests. Even Wallace would not have done that! (And by all accounts, anyway, he was a faithful husband.)
Some have said here and elsewhere that they were not planning to vote for Trump as “Chief Pastor” and used that as an excuse to turn aside questions about and criticisms of his character. True, we should not expect our president or any of our political leaders to be totally virtuous. But neither should we expect them to be boastful of their lack of virtue. Nobody can seriously deny that the President of the United States is a role model to Americans—in terms of decency, dignity and personal character.
An old saying has many versions, but one is that “People in a democracy get the government they deserve.” And it has been attributed to many pundits. I disagree with the saying—especially when we have to live under a government the majority did not vote for and led by a populist demagogue who shows no signs of dignity or humility.
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