In 1979 I wrote a letter to President Jimmy Carter. I was 11 years old and I knew more about the Los Angeles Dodgers starting lineup than I did about politics—Ron Yeager, Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Bill Russel, Ron Cey, Dusty Baker, Rick Monday, and the amazing Reggie Smith; the best team ever fielded. My mom complained a lot about the price of gas and I had a major crush on a girl named Dana. That letter to President Carter is a constant reminder that the US is greater than her Presidents.
The current US Presidential race is seen with a combination of fear, loathing, and entertainment.
The media, foreign and domestic, frames Trump’s election as a world changing disaster and Hillary’s as a laughable inconvenience. In fact, neither candidate will be able to destroy the country or the world.
Traveling and meeting people is always interesting and occasionally entertaining. Although we avoid discussing the politics of other countries, our rules do not apply to our hosts; some people outside the US are interested in American politics. Whether in India, the United Kingdom, or most recently Thailand, people want to know our opinion about the US Presidential race. “What will happen when Trump is President?” one Thai taxi driver asked, “I think it will be bad for the world.”
“What about if Hillary is elected President?” I asked.
“Then nothing will happen anywhere,” he replied.
The US constitution allows for electoral mistakes.
Every Presidential candidate makes promises they cannot deliver; it is the nature of the American political process. Obama promised to close Guantanamo Bay, end the war in Afghanistan, and provide “universal health care”—his definition of universal healthcare differs greatly from most people we know; Bush promised to lower the national debt, reduce the number of unemployed, and provide a humble foreign policy with less troop deployment—we all know how that turned out; and Bill Clinton promised healthcare reform, the elimination of “don’t ask, don’t tell” in the US military, and campaign finance reform. Promises during elections fall off candidate’s tongues like water over Niagara Falls.
To politicians, a promise is only a promise if they are able to bring it to fruition. Anyone who has ever spent any time with children understands one simple rule: don’t make promises you can’t keep. Children don’t care about deadlines, work commitments, or an uncooperative congress; they know if a promise is made and not realized, it is considered broken. Unlike children, politicians survive and thrive on extenuating circumstances, where a broken promise was never really a promise at all.
The same system that sometimes limits the ability of a President to keep their promises also protects the country—and some might say, the world—from disaster. The US system is made up of three branches of government: Legislative, which bickers back and forth, eventually making sometimes silly and occasionally horrible laws; Executive, which carries out laws—hiring teams of lawyers to figure out how they can be circumvented without anyone important going to prison; and Judicial, part of which has lifelong employment and doesn’t care what people think about the laws it evaluates. It is a balance designed to keep any one person or group from doing anything so heinous it destroys what was created over 240 years ago.
In practical terms, the US system of government doesn’t always work to the benefit of its people; however, it does limit the impact any one person can have on the nation. The President can’t unilaterally sign agreements with other nations, for example, Russia—as some are concerned Trump will do—without the approval of congress. He also doesn’t have a little red button on his desk he can push to nuke a country he doesn’t like. The President alone cannot change the course of history without the backing of the congress.
The two-party system limits American’s choices.
Unfortunately, American’s, like voters in other countries, sometimes elect the wrong person to office. The two-party system forces us to frequently choose between candidates we neither respect nor particularly like. Most American’s are in the middle on the bell curve, but most candidates run on platforms at the extremes. In this election, much like so many others over the last thirty years, Americans will choose between the lesser of two evils; between drinking Milwaukee’s Best or Natural Light—or, for our wine drinking readers, between Boone’s Farm and Thunderbird. Either way, we’ll have a headache at the end of their term.
Our two-party system is outdated, limits our choice of candidates, and is designed to be divisive; however, it’s divisiveness is also a boon for the majority of Americans. A divided Congress and White House means either nothing gets done or there is compromise. The US political climate over the last two to three decades has been one of disagreement rather than compromise. Since we won’t see compromise in Washington in the foreseeable future, unrelenting political fastidiousness is our best option. A stagnant government still provides the basics—which is what a government should be doing, anyway—but unlike when a single party controls the White House and congress, things don’t get any worse. Add in finger-pointing, name calling, and back biting and the world gets hopefully four, but possibly eight years of entertainment from the capital of comedy: Washington, DC
Even if everything else breaks down within the system of checks and balances, we can still count on term limits. There is also the option of impeachment, but lets be honest, if selling arms to Iran or getting a hummer in the White House and lying about it under oath doesn’t result in impeachment, a few years of name calling isn’t going anywhere. But every four years the President runs for reelection and worst case they win, giving us a maximum of eight years of pain and laughter. Nothing lasts forever except death—unless you’re Hindu, Jain, Sikh, or Buddhist.
Parents teach their children to count the seconds between the claps of thunder.
I eventually received a reply from President Carter. Although it wasn’t as great as meeting Steve Garvey and Ron Cey after a Dodgers game, it ranked in the top ten things experienced by an 11 year old that year. I had no idea about his lackluster response to the energy crisis, an inability to curb unemployment, or the high inflation that gripped the US. I only knew that the President replied to my letter—it wasn’t an intern; it was Jimmy, darn it!
The cloud of impending global doom looming on the electoral horizon is the same as it was in the past: a small, storm. The world and the US survived two Bush presidencies, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, and countless others; neither Trump nor Hillary can dismantle America, much less the world in their few years in office. Eventually, their tiny storms will end, people will clean up another mess, and life, the US and the planet will continue unabated. Until then, keep counting the space between the thunder and listen for them to pass.
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