Not My President?!
Oh, I know the frustration of not having the candidate of your choosing win an election. That’s right, the results of the elections in 2008 and 2012 were struggles for me. I took the results, and the resultant years, in as much of a stoic fashion as I could muster. And I’m not at all satisfied this time around either.
I keep hearing voices proclaiming, despite his apparently legitimate electoral success, that Donald J. Trump is “not my president.” Of course, this would work perfectly well for any Canadian, for any citizen of a European or African or Asian nation (that is unless they have dual citizenship). But will it work for American citizens? I find that prospect rather doubtful. Since the refrain continues to resonate, here are a few of my own thoughts.
I was born in the late-60s. Yes, I’m now that old. The following were or are or are to become “my presidents.”
Lyndon Johnson was my first president. I didn’t realize it at the time. I realize it now.
Richard Nixon was my president, though I honestly didn’t notice. My attention was otherwise occupied. I blame it on my years. But I’ve heard a lot about Nixon in the meantime.
Gerald Ford was my president, though I can’t say what I recall from those years as learning how to use a hose in the backyard amidst the strawberry patches occupied my attention. But I wondered about the president’s relationship to my dad’s truck at the time.
Jimmy Carter was my president. I learned that I didn’t always like or appreciate my president and that I seemed to have gained that perspective from my parents. I recall arguing with a neighbor friend about the president while we walked to elementary school (the image is strangely vivid in my memory). I’m sure our conversation was profound and thoroughly informed. Around that same time I also learned that a package of Graham Crackers and a glass of milk helped with the fears of school, the rainy afternoons, and general malaise.
Ronald Reagan was my president. I remember the Space Shuttle disaster. Most of all I remember playing drums through high school and into my university years. Then I remember coming to faith in Jesus Christ in December of 1987. I’ve since learned much more about Reagan and have a qualified appreciation for him.
George H.W. Bush was my president. I learned that “know new taxes” was mistakenly heard as “no new taxes,” introducing me to ambiguities of political rhetoric. I’ve since witnessed the power of political rhetoric both to inspire, to frustrate, to clarify, and to obfuscate.
Bill Clinton was my president. Here I learned that presidents sometimes take personal liberties and perhaps most often get away with them. I learned that the Oval Office came to be known by other names. And something about cigars. I also learned the value of the different branches of government and witnessed the wondrous achievement of a balanced federal budget. That achievement is radically elusive.
George W. Bush was my president. Here I learned that “one of the stupidest people on earth” who “can’t do anything right” was alleged to be the mastermind behind the 9-11 alleged terrorist attacks. More seriously, I learned that presidents can falsely equate the gospel with the imposition of democratic government on foreign countries. I began to learn the distinction between the kingdom of God and the United States of America.
Barack Obama is my president until 20 January 2017. Honestly, here I learned to fear my president, as well as to pray for him, for his family, and for his administration. Yes, there are times when I have prayed against him and his administration (though never against his family, though Michelle’s involvement in the fiasco of school lunches provided some temptation). I also learned about the significance of a president’s ideological genealogy. I learned about how policies affect citizens rather differently, with some benefiting while others are at least inconvenienced. I witnessed the hubris of attempting to redefine ancient and divine institutions. And I learned much more that I’ll not detail here.
Donald J. Trump will be my president starting 20 January 2017. I’ve learned again how deeply flawed candidates can be and yet can win (though I think I first learned that lesson with Clinton’s reelection in ’96.) I’ve learned that the major political parties sometimes are thrown into serious disarray. I’ve learned again that democratic societies sometimes suffer from episodes of social violence. I expect there will be other lessons learned both sooner and later – some new, some reiterated.
So, why this silly exercise? There are a few reasons.
First, as an American citizen, even if I didn’t vote for the winning candidate, they are or will be or have been my president. I can say that they are not, but the U.S. Constitution says otherwise. We might even despise the president, but we despise them as president, despite whatever fanciful or disdainful rhetoric we might conjure against them. But, sure, I can appreciate how cathartic it may be to lavish contemptuous and condescending rhetoric on others.
Second, the repeated refrain of “(not) my president” betrays a misunderstanding. The President of the United States of America is the president of all U.S. citizens and not merely a portion of us. Our constitutional system doesn’t let the losing party claim an alternative leader with some separate territory. Now, that has been attempted, mind you, and more American citizens perished in a related war than in almost all other U.S. wars combined. (I understand that the statistic recently has been exceeded.) Truly, the current president, whoever he or she may be, simply is our president, no matter how much we refuse to appreciate that reality.
Third, as I mentioned above with regards to President Obama, I will aim to continue praying for President Trump, his family, and his administration. So many forces are bent on causing significant troubles here at the beginning of his term. My concern is that such actions will not only be illegal and immoral in themselves but, if successful, could bring serious harm to many people far beyond the intended victims. Indeed, the unintended consequences could be legion.
Of Character and Community
What is written below is an appended postscript to the post above. I first put this on social media on 9 November 2016. I suppose it remains apropos as we venture into the opening days of the new administration.
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America is a deeply fractured society. This goes for Britain (where we currently live) as well. While there are all sorts of realignments occurring just now, there faultlines crisscrossing the nation are growing wider and deeper.
While I’m not supposing that the fault lines would or should disappear, we can exercise our wills and attentions and interests in the direction of our communities.
Discerning common concerns and interests can lead to common efforts, and these provide opportunities for communication and perhaps mutual understanding. They also produce occasions for attempting to persuade rather than simply to demean, diminish, disparage, demonize, and disregard.
In my experience, this works best in person, complete with food and drink. Sure, some (but few) conversations online can be fruitful (both for the participants and for the audiences), but we mustn’t exchange virtual reality for real conviviality. We mustn’t be satisfied by digitally “friending” and “following” others.
Generous conviviality is our calling. Honest hospitality rather than hostility or hypocrisy. Warm conversations rather than hot conflicts.
And, come to think of it…
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