Now That We Have A New President …

Jim Prevor - The Fruits of Thought

Jim Prevor - The Fruits of ThoughtIt is said that Will Rogers‭, ‬the famous American humorist‭, ‬used to include in his act a comment that when a President was elected‭, ‬we instantly knew one thing for certain about him‭: ‬An awful lot of people didn’t want him to be President‭. ‬This is forever so‭, ‬and maybe more so this year‭. ‬Will Rogers was referring to the people who voted against the winner‭, ‬and this year there seems to be an exceptionally large number of people who aren’t thrilled even with the people they voted for‭.‬

More than this‭, ‬the nature of disapproval of the other candidate seems more intense than usual‭. ‬People who can’t tolerate Trump see him as misogynist‭, ‬racist‭, ‬incompetent‭, ‬and indeed insane‭, ‬while those who oppose Clinton see her as a power-mad liar‭, ‬who is corrupt and not only a criminal‭, ‬but part of a criminal family enterprise‭. ‬Now this is not completely unheard‭ ‬of in our history‭. ‬Allegations of illegitimate children‭, ‬etc‭., ‬go back a long way‭. ‬But it is hard to imagine these two‭, ‬or even‭ ‬their respective supporters‭, ‬getting together over a beer to hash out what is good for the country‭, ‬or even what is a politically possible compromise‭, ‬in the way political opposites such as Ronald Reagan and then Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill were able to do back in the 1980s‭.‬

This piece is being written before the election and you are reading it after the election‭, ‬but being a brilliant prognosticator‭,‬‭ ‬I will predict‭, ‬in the spirit of Will Rogers‭, ‬that many people will be not just unhappy‭, ‬but despondent over the results‭.‬

Certainly one should never assume things will work out for the best‭, ‬but the ability to be serene in times of stress is a virtue‭. ‬One is reminded of when Sir John Sinclair‭, ‬founder of the Board of Agriculture‭, ‬promoter of the Statistical Account of Scotland‭, ‬and author of innumerable pamphlets on a multitude of subjects‭, ‬brought Adam Smith‭, ‬the British author of‭ ‬The Wealth of Nations‭ ‬and an exceptional political economist‭, ‬the news of the surrender of General Burgoyne at Saratoga in October 1777‭. ‬The event marked a turning point in the U.S‭. ‬War for Independence‭, ‬as the American victory gave France the confidence to side with America‭. ‬Sinclair exclaimed that the nation was ruined‭. ‬“There is a great deal of ruin in a nation‭,‬”‭ ‬was Smith’s serene reply‭.‬

In order for us to have better governance, we must have better people in government, whch means we need systems and a culture that defers to excellence.

Or put another way‭, ‬each problem provides the opportunity to think things through and find new ways to proceed and make improvements‭. ‬One of the most important issues to reflect upon is what type of people we want elected and whether the system encourages‭ ‬people of excellence to rise to the top‭. ‬If you think about the Founding Fathers‭, ‬it is striking enough that people of such brilliance existed in the small backwater that was America at the time‭. ‬Yet even more extraordinary is a culture and system that elevated such men and brought them all together in one place at one time‭, ‬in such authority that they were able to draft and endorse the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution‭.‬

Even in more recent times‭, ‬a habit of deference to excellence still reigned‭. ‬Political commentator George F‭. ‬Will recently told‭ ‬a story about an important Republican Senator‭, ‬Robert Taft‭ (‬1889-1953‭):‬

A President’s son‭, ‬he was‭ ‬“Mr‭. ‬Republican”‭ ‬during his 14‭ ‬years representing Ohio in the Senate‭… ‬Then as now‭, ‬Ohio had many blue-collar industrial workers‭, ‬and Taft’s critics said he could not represent them‭. ‬

So‭, ‬in 1947‭ ‬a reporter asked Taft’s wife‭, ‬“Do you think of your husband as a common man‭?‬”‭ ‬Aghast‭, ‬she replied‭: ‬“Oh‭, ‬no‭, ‬no‭! ‬The senator is very uncommon‭. ‬He was first in his class at Yale and first in his class at the Harvard Law School‭. ‬We‭ ‬wouldn’t permit Ohio to be represented in the Senate by just a common man‭.‬”

In 1950‭, ‬Taft was easily reelected‭.‬

Yet today it is said the most accurate predictor of who will win an election is the answer to this question‭: ‬“Which of the candidates would you most like to have a beer with‭?‬”

Even the thrust to make voting easier‭ ‬‮–‬‭ ‬registration when one gets a driver’s license and easy early and absentee balloting‭ ‬‮–‬‭ ‬one senses this is not a function of conviction that it will make governance better but some kind of blind faith that the more democracy the better‭. ‬This is an attitude the Founders did not have and‭, ‬in fact‭, ‬they devised a system of government to prevent the short-term passions of people from moving the levers of government‭.‬

The late Senator Sam Ervin‭, ‬who famously chaired the Watergate committee‭, ‬once said‭, ‬“I’m not going to shed any real or political or crocodile tears if people don’t care enough to vote‭. ‬I don’t believe in making it easy for apathetic‭, ‬lazy people‭. ‬I’d be extremely happy if nobody in the United States voted except for the people who thought about the issues and made up their own minds and wanted to vote‭. ‬No one else who votes is going to contribute anything but statistics‭, ‬and I don’t care that much for statistics‭.‬”‭

In order for us to have better governance‭, ‬we must have better people in government‭, ‬which means we need systems and a culture that defers to excellence‭. ‬This is not a common mode of thought today‭, ‬but perhaps the deep dissatisfaction with both candidates‭ ‬will lead to a reconsideration of the way we have been proceeding‭. ‬Perhaps we should remember that folk definition of insanity‭: ‬Doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results‭.