Saturday, November 12, 2016

Thoughts on America's Presidents

The White House as seen from the Washington Monument

What a difference four years makes. For the 2102 Presidential Election, I was voting from overseas, and there was a sense of separation between whatever the outcome may be and how it would affect American expats. With Malaysia being a half day time difference ahead, I dropped my kids off at school just as the polls in America were closing then headed to a friend's home for an election watch party. The guests were an amicable mix of Democrats and Republicans, Americans and citizens from other countries with an interest in world politics. We attempted to explain the Electoral College with limited success and carried on jovially eating, drinking and talking throughout the morning until Obama was declared the winner.

When Election Day 2016 dawned, it was with a far different mood than in 2012. In the days leading up to it, friends from all over the world were posting on Facebook imploring Americans to choose wisely as the effects would ripple worldwide. Honestly, I was one of the many Americans who didn't care for either Clinton or Trump. I did not completely support Clinton's policies but couldn't bring myself to vote for a xenophobic, homophobic, misogynistic bigot. Thousands of Americans apparently felt the same way.

The Eternal Flame at the grave of John F. Kennedy at Arlington National Cemetery

I thought back to experiencing the 2013 Malaysian general elections first hand and how I had stocked up on a few days worth of groceries in case if rioting prevented us from going out. I felt confident that my fellow Americans would honor our country's tradition of a peaceful exchange of power. But now, I'm not so sure. Haters are emboldened to act out by Trump's victory, and Hillary supporters have taken to the streets in protests.

When we visited Washington D.C. last year over Thanksgiving Break, the race for the presidency was still wide open. An assortment of candidates filled the field — enough so that someone was bound to appeal to each voter's individual sensibilities. The Capitol Steps, a troupe of Congressional staffers who specialize in musical political satire, had plenty of source material that was funny but not to the point of "I don't know whether to laugh or cry." Like many other visitors to D.C., we visited the monuments erected to America's great presidents.

Watching "Hamilton's America" on PBS's Great Peformances a few days ago, I finally had a chance to see Lin-Manuel Miranda's Tony Award winning brilliancy at transforming US history into something that is incredibly relevant today. It got me thinking about that Washington D.C. trip and the men behind the monuments.

Washington Monument aglow in the light of the setting sun

George Washington, our first president, was beloved by Americans. He could have gone on serving for many more than his two terms but stepped down anyways. He wasn't a power-hungry man on a quest to be America's next king. When I look at Trump, all I see is a yearning for power and adulation. I don't think that he has America's best interest at heart, but I'm hoping that his desire for high approval ratings will lead to policies that are beneficial to the country.

Jefferson Memorial

During the election of 1800, Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr both earned an equal number of Electoral College votes, thus kicking the decision to the House of Representatives. The election was said to be "one of the most acrimonious in the annals of American history." (Keep in mind that this was a short 11 years after Washington's first inauguration.)  I'm guessing that the 2016 election has far surpassed the level of 1800 acrimony. Ultimately, Jefferson was named president, and Burr served as Vice-President.

We best know Jefferson not as the third president of the USA but as the primary author of the Declaration of Independence. That's why it's so hard to reconcile the fact that the man who penned, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal" also owned 600 slaves over  the course of his lifetime. While he is said to have been a benevolent owner, he still owned people. How could a man so flawed also do so much good?

Lincoln Memorial

The period from Abraham Lincoln's election in 1860 until his death in 1865 was an incredibly tumultuous time in American history. Before he could even move into the White House, slaveholding states in the South began seceding to form the Confederacy. Hundreds of thousands of people died during the ensuing Civil War. Just five days after General Robert E. Lee and the Confederate Army surrendered, Lincoln was assassinated.

Reading the news today, America seems horribly divided, but it's not as divided as it was in Lincoln's time. Some haters have seen Trump's campaign rhetoric and and election victory as a free pass to act out on their heinous inclinations. But my country has beaten down such actions before, and they will be beaten down again. We have survived much more turbulent times.

My family in front of the White House last November

My high school son will be traveling to Washington D.C. in March with his classmates. I'm not sure how much upheaval will occur in the ensuing months as Trump transitions into "Leader of the Free World." I do know that it will be a different Washington than the one he last visited.

I remind myself that our Founding Fathers designed the government with three branches and that the presidency is just one of them. I remind myself that there is supposedly a system of checks and balances so that no man (or woman) has too much power.  But I also thought that the Republican party would come to its senses months ago and offer up a more worthy candidate. And if I can be wrong about that...

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  1. Yea, unfortunately the voting process has come down to riots, protests, fear mongering and intimidation in this country. Very different political landscape from 30 years ago when I came to the United States. At that time Democrats, Republic and Independents also disagreed on many issues, but they still had a common goal in mind: the good of our country. It doesn't seem to be that way anymore. Lately, people began hiding their political preferences for fear of being discriminated against. How sad that Americans chose this path!

  2. How interesting to read about the thoughts that go through your head as an American. I certainly feel a lot smarter about the topic and hope you are right when you say that there have been worse times and it has worked out before. Thanks for sharing this!

  3. It is a strange feeling being in a separate country during the elections as an American. It is also very odd how EVERYONE seems to have a strong opinion on American politics despite not living there and often knowing very little about it. I may not have supported Trump but this is how the system works and the country has voted. Hopefully people will become more united as things move forward, and fingers crossed for the best!

  4. We have been following this election with great interest since spending 2 months in the US. It appears that us that this was the biggest silent vote in history. no one seemed to want to declare their hand.

  5. Michele, It will be an interesting four years. I'll be interested to hear what your son thinks when he comes back from his trip.

  6. Hi, Michelle. I hope you're right about Trump wanting high approval ratings. Perhaps he'll do what's right for America and the world just so he'll feel good. However, I'm not all that optimistic, but fingers crossed! Thanks for linking up this week. #TPThursday

  7. This is a great post Michele and very well said. I admit that being away from the US does make you feel a certain sense of detachment from all that is happening. But I do feel so many of the points you made. Like you said, our government was designed with a system of checks and balances, so let's hope that it as a whole does what's right for America.

  8. One reason i wish more Americans would travel abroad is because it provides perspective on our own country. you realize what the Bill of Rights, free elections, representative democracy, etc. mean when you visit places that don't have them or where they don't work as well. And I think it helps you realize what, say free speech or diversity really mean and why they matter to us. nice post!


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