A few years ago I had the privilege of assisting a family making burial arrangements at the Veteran's Cemetery near Des Moines. It is a beautiful and beautifully maintained memorial site, tightly managed and efficiently run. The representative helping the family went through the options, the paperwork, and the benefits -- among them being a certificate commemorating the deceased and signed by the President. I was saddened -- no, I was angered -- when the representative paused at this point and with a kind of pregnant gaze mentioned to the family that the form for this certificate didn't have to be sent in any time soon. “Some would prefer their certificate to be signed by a different President, and so delay the submission.”
I've been thinking of that lamentable conversation in recent days as we collectively start a new chapter as a citizenry. We are of a decidedly mixed mind as we toe up to this starting line. Some are excited by the prospects. Others find them appalling. Fair enough. That's the political system. Always there are defenders and detractors. Always there are political allies as well as foes both partisan and principled. Some in each category are more strident than others. At the end of the day, however, we only get one President at a time. One, who serves us all.
Which is why I'm feeling again the same acute sadness, weariness and indeed annoyance with the “opt out” reflex so popular among so many of us as I did that day in the Veteran's Cemetery. “Not my President” is the mantra I see hashtagged, Facebooked, bumper stickered and crowed. But that sentiment makes for a better slogan than a democracy. We get one President at a time, whether it's the one we voted for or not. He or she may not represent our values, our core principles or our chosen way of being in the world. But make no mistake: she or he does indeed represent us in consequential ways that bear our signature, whether we have written it there or not. There are no asterisks, no “opt out” boxes, no abstentions. Republicans, who constantly chaffed at such “not my President” dismissals of George W. Bush’s legitimacy, should be just as vigilant about this as Democrats who wearied at the similarly obstructionist and repugnant dismissals by Republicans of Barack Obama's leadership.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not happy about where we are and where the signs suggest we are headed. I didn't vote for this President. Quite apart from his philosophical principles which I find mercurial at best and callous if not punitive at worst, for all his financial and professional advantages I experience him to be an unseemly, boorish, churlish cretin who offends most of my moral, religious and social sensibilities, most of the time.
But we only get one President at a time, and though the parties have their own interests to spin, it is in no one's interest for him to fail. Like it or not, he is OUR President. We had better figure out how to encourage him, pray for him, indeed nudge him toward our collective success, or it will be to our collective loss.
Lobby, then, write letters, call your elected representatives, make your views known, and in a few years vote again, keeping in mind that ones principles prevail either by outnumbering those who oppose them, or by persuasion -- and the former is typically accomplished by the latter.
Those who long for a different course might consider abandoning the quixotic quest for technicalities to invalidate the recent election, along with the near drone-like dismissals of everything emanating from it, and get on with the harder but more critical work of fashioning and communicating a compellingly winsome case for something better.
Far more than merely casting a vote, that's the real work of a democracy.