The same day as the first U.S. presidential debate, the Colombian government signed an accord with the Marxist rebel group FARC, ending a 52-year conflict that consumed a quarter-million lives. However, just a week later in a single-issue referendum, the Colombian people voted by a narrow 50.22% majority to reject that deal, though it had taken four years to negotiate.
The lesson is as simple as it is repetitious: conflicts benefit very, very few, while they destroy very, very many. And even near the end conciliation is difficult to achieve amidst the bitter entrails of a long-standing feud.
Hopefully, both candidates for the White House will take that into account under the bright lights and heavy pressure of presidential politics, remembering that this contest isn’t about either one of them, per se, but about the republic and that for which it stands.
Come on, it takes pretty massive chutzpah to even want to be president of the United States, or even suggest that you could be or should be. And once visions of commander-in-chief start staring back in the mirror each morning, it becomes increasingly difficult to give up the image with acceptance and grace, especially if you find your opponent so wanting.
Just think, when was the last time that a president was called to office instead of clawing for it like a Black Friday shopper at a Best Buy? (Answer below.)
America hails itself as a country like no other. As much an idea as a land, the U.S. is the only country in history so conceived. It is the idea of individual liberty, equality, and justice through the rule of law. It is an idea that has persevered and grown domestically, while offering hope to the world for over 200 years. It is the beau ideal of what mankind is capable of when it reaches for its higher register. But American excepionalism doesn’t come as a birthright like citizenship. It must be earned generation by generation.
While America hasn’t always lived up to its lofty ideals, it has continued to make course corrections time and time again, always returning to the cooordinates plotted by its founders. But fear and anger are powerful forces, so powerful that if they are allowed to gather can darken any idea, even one as old and wise and gleaming as America.
The prospect of seeing that ideal tarnished in the heat of the coming election due to personal ambition isnt just a sobering thought, it is becoming an increasingly real possibility as the candidates gird for final engagement, while supporters stand ever more staunchly behind their champions in fervored alignment.
The prospect of what may come on the heels of this endless campaign is what should have us all terrorized, because it matters to the world how we act and how accepting we are of our own elections results.
Let’s hope that as the candidates continue to present their cases to the American people that Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump can reacquaint themselves with the higher ground of American exceptionalism that generations before them constructed, often with the blood and treasure of their lives.
To fail to do so would mark either or both unworthy of the office they seek. It falls to them, then, to rise to the occasion, rather than simply to jump to the bait.
(Dwight Eisenhower was the last man called to office in 1952)