So, I got an email from my father. (This is about as far as he goes in embracing technology and even there, I think it’s because he wants to save himself the price of a stamp.) I’ve reprinted it with his permission. As always, he was hesitant to give me said permission, not because he dislikes his thoughts and feelings being shared with the public as much as he hates to think he’s doing my job for me.
I was working in the yard the other day when your Mom came out to tell me the election had been called for Joe Biden. She had been glued to the TV since Tuesday night. If I’m honest, I was, too. I was only working in the yard to try and take my mind off things. Give my hands something to do.
I was happy, of course, but mostly I felt relief. After four years of watching a reality show unfold in the White House, seeing a President who was completely unable to act presidential, wondering again and again if we were at the end of American democracy, it felt like I could breathe again. (I let out so many deep breaths, your mother suggested I go down to the drug store and check my blood pressure.) I guess that isn’t necessarily the reaction you want when your preferred candidate wins, but at this point, I’ll take what I can get.
I guess a lot of people are going to be discouraged by how close the election was. They wanted a complete rejection of all the ugliness this president stood for and they didn’t get it. They’re wondering what’s wrong with this country, why so many people could embrace a man who lied, bullied and insulted his way to power, who was a living example of the ugly American on the world stage, who couched statements and policies in racism, who didn’t have a basic understanding of law, government, history or geography. Maybe that’s more America than we want to admit. I know you’re going to roll your eyes at this and mumble, “Of course a former Republican would say that,” but I really believe the number of Republicans who are committed to Trump is small compared to the number who just held their noses and voted for him. Because they couldn’t bring themselves to vote for a Democrat. If I’m not mistaken, you’ve never for a Republican, so, I think you can understand the concept of voting strictly along party lines.
Of course, in some ways, it’s not over yet. Trump will continue throw temper tantrums and insist the election was stolen from him, just as he would have done four years ago if he had lost. It’s no different than what little kids do. If they’re losing a ballgame and can’t tolerate it, they’ll insist they weren’t losing. The other team was cheating. That sort of thing is understandable when you’re a child. When it’s a grown man in his seventies, a man in a position of power acting this way, it’s a sad spectacle. That’s what his entire presidency has felt like: handing a toddler a machinegun and hoping for the best.
This whole kerfuffle is proof of Trump’s ignorance. To him, patriotism is hugging a flag in front of an audience. If he understood history, he’d understand that the heart of American democracy, more than any constitutional amendment or law or symbol, is the peaceful transfer of power. We were the first country on earth to really try it. No inheritance, no armed conflict, no invading force. Just leaders willingly surrendering power because it was either time to step aside or it was will of the people. We’ve taken that for granted these last 225 years. At the end of the day, America has largely run on the honor system. That only works until we get leaders who have no honor.
When all of this dies down, and it will eventually die down, and we ask ourselves what we’ve learned from all this, I think it should be this: we need to take the presidency more seriously. We need to take our leaders and our government more seriously. The criteria for handing the keys of power to someone shouldn’t be whether you’d like to have a beer with them or if you liked them on television. Power is something too easily abused to hand over to just anyone. We can’t afford to take a flyer on anyone.
I hear young people say things like, “I don’t believe in politics. I can help more just doing my own thing.” I don’t blame them. In this climate, it’s easy (and sane) to tune out politics. But that’s how abuses are created and perpetuated, when we don’t hold our leaders accountable. We need to stay engaged, know what’s going on, and speak up. We need to know the facts, so we don’t fall for nonsense like “fake news” and “alternative facts.” The Washington Post has started using the slogan “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” I’ve never thought it was more true than now.
I think about the holidays and how you and Kevin’s family won’t be joining us. I think about all the families who have lost someone this past year and what they’ll be missing. I wonder how many would have been saved if the federal government had taken this more seriously. If we had a president capable of bringing the country together instead of turning it into a partisan issue, if he hadn’t made the work of serious leaders more difficult, if he hadn’t encouraged a good chunk of the country to ignore what was right on their doorstep. This is what happens when leaders fail to lead. This is what happens when voters fail to choose a leader.
Well, I don’t mean to sound pessimistic or angry. I don’t really feel that way. (Maybe a little angry.) Yes, it’s disappointing to know so many people could support such a man. But if there’s anything encouraging to take away from it, it’s this: more people voted against him. More people made their voices heard and said, “No, this isn’t us. This isn’t the America we want.” I like to think there’s hope in that.
Anyway, I think I’ve taken up enough of your time. Say hello to your friends for us. I hope you’re all able to get together for Thanksgiving. It would make your mother and me feel better to know you’re not alone. And speaking of your mother, make sure you call her. She worries about you.