Going into this week of intense election coverage, and not impressed with either candidates’ projected faults and baggage, I’ve found myself deep in thought. What if Clinton wins? What directions do we go? What if Trump wins? What does our country look like? Then a new thought, higher in scope than the “on the ground” speculation, came to mind. What if, regardless of who wins, the job changes the candidate? What if, though the personalities are larger than life with these two, the job, the office, is still bigger then they? I think I had forgotten that. Yes, perhaps, once the winner has assumed office, we might see character improvement. Could the position of President help this candidate rise to make more than 50% of us proud? Is that even possible?
Then I read about President Arthur who became our president in 1881. His baggage? For starters, the presidency welcomed him by default. After the 2nd presidential assassination (James Garfield) in 16 years, Mr. Chester Arthur, VP, followed Constitutional protocol and took his place as President. And furthering the decline of his popularity, previous to his VP position, Beim-Esche states in his book, he “had been removed from a high administrative position under the suspicion of dishonest management” (Calling on the Presidents: Tales Their Houses Tell, page 209). To say Arthur enjoyed any of the country’s confidence would be an over-statement.
But what is unmistakable is the change Arthur underwent as he transitioned into this new position. He defied public assumptions. He disregarded low expectations presupposed. How? Beim-Esche states, in his wife’s words, “…I think he simply allowed himself to become what he had actually always been.” (Calling on the Presidents: Tales their Houses Tell, page 212) Then, through the words of a mysterious epistolarian, Julia Sand, who had written Arthur during his time in the Presidency, gave me hope: “Great emergencies awaken generous traits which have lain dormant half a life.” (Calling on the Presidents: Tales their Houses Tell, page 214)
After drinking in the profoundness of Sand’s prose, I found more peace. Though I have differing levels of mistrust with both candidates, I found myself thinking: If Hillary wins, I must trust that “generous traits” will rise up in her that have not yet been seen by half the country that will bless us as a country. And if Trump wins, I need to trust that “generous traits” in him will ascent to benefit our country. If this office of the President is bigger than any one person, which I believe it is, this birth of “generous traits” has to reveal itself, like it did in Arthur!
A new faith began to sprout within me. This great experiment we call the United States, the principles on which it solidly lays, secures us all in its great net of prosperity…if we let it.
If your stomach is turning, if you’re considering leaving the country, or if you’re crying tears of joy and shouting praise from the mountain tops, I again offer these words from Julia Sand. These words are not just for our President, but for us all: “Great emergencies” (define how you’d like) seen on both sides, shall and should awaken “generous traits” within us ALL – you and me – towards one another. Like the Office of the President is greater than any one person, so this country is greater than any one political party. Regardless of who wins, may those “generous traits” so defined in Americans, be revealed in all of us, together, as it has numerous times in our history. That is a true fact regardless of who is the President.
Quotes taken from new book, “Calling on the Presidents: Tales Their Homes Tell” by Clark Beim-Esche.