THE DC BULLETT is a collection of insights from our correspondent in DC covering US politics from the inside.
No agenda. No sides taken. Just your friend’s point-of-view:
Memorial Day is nearly upon us, the gateway to summer when God sheds his grace upon the first world with barbecues, convertibles, and mindless summer blockbusters. Cafes on the streets of New York open their verandas. Across the country, from suburb to shining suburb, Americans of all ages will resume that timeless tradition of doing cannonballs into backyard swimming pools with light beer in hand.
But this year history has cooked up something unexpected for the American people: the return of the Baby Boomer.
In case you haven’t had your fill of Viagra commercials during primetime television, streets overrun with silver haired bicyclists in full-body spandex, or concert stages where rock and roll is collecting social security, the Boomers have succeeded in pulling off one final coup—they are once again pounding at the White House gates.
Eight years ago, in one of pop-media’s many observations masquerading as history, much champagne was spilled over Barack Obama’s place as our “first post-Boomer president.” A new age was upon us.
Well, we can cancel that new age. The news that either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump will be elected president means only one thing: they’re back.
Forget the policy discussions—we the people are about to spend the summer at the worst family reunion of all time. Holding court at one end of the picnic table, lecturing all, sits Aunt Hillary, whose concept of feminism is parked firmly in 1972. She’s selling a narrative that American womanhood is so fragile that it is threatened by an age in which grown men wear cargo pants and work in cubicles. Of course, at the other end of the picnic table is Crazy Uncle Donald and his ill-fitting “Make America Great Again” cap. Uncle Donald continues to be furious with people he has never met, and is spouting theories that the best way to keep them at bay is to build some sort of large physical barrier that spans the border between Texas and Mexico. (Past generations called this novel idea the Rio Grande).
And we are stuck in between; passing the potato salad and realizing that there isn’t an iPhone in the land that can sufficiently distract from this arcane noise.
It has been said before, but you literally can’t make this stuff up. You don’t have to, because these are pantomimes of your relatives. They are the reason the wise engineers in Detroit once invented station-wagons with reverse seats in the way, way back—because engineers have relatives, too. Say what you will of Detroit, but long before this boorish obsession with gas mileage they once focused on solving real issues—like outraged geriatrics and loud children.
But we can’t put Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in the way, way back. They rather insist upon driving, which is a problem on multiple levels, because neither candidate has actually driven a car in the 21st Century. Nor have they stood in line at Starbucks and watched a barista try to write their name on a plastic cup of Frappuccino with a felt pen. And neither of our presidential candidates has flown a commercial airline since the 1980s. This begs the question: When selecting a president is it more important for the candidates to have received a pat down from TSA than to know last year’s GDP?
Presidents need real-world experiences to lead. The purpose of brushes with reality is not to empathize with your troubles, but to be a constructive part of the solution. Worldly experience tempers your approach. If a politician is forty years removed from reality, look out. During critical moments in the Oval Office, when it comes time for a decision, their mind will reach for answers and grasp at dusty memories and talking points prepared by a preening entourage of staffers.
And this is a preview of what lurks beyond Memorial Day. Remember those endless summers of youth when it all seemed possible? Good. Hold them tight, because this isn’t going to be one of them.
If there is a silver lining here (and there isn’t, but let’s make pretend) it may as well be this: the presidency has spent more than a century becoming a cult of personality. Ever since Teddy Roosevelt invited the press into the Rose Garden to lecture from the Bully Pulpit, each successive president has sought to add a few inches of height of that pulpit, positioning himself nearer to the heavens. The thing is, our republic doesn’t work that way. America isn’t the third world. Our institutions do not inherently react well to demagogues and poster politics. The more we’ve deified our elected officials, the more we’ve lost respect for the institutions they are meant to serve. Our embrace of demagogues, more than any fabricated gender war or tirade on Mexicans, has directly eroded our freedoms. And if there is one thing that can reverse this trend, it is this election. Much like handing a drunk the keys to your car, electing unserious people to run our public institutions is a great way to remember their actual value. Doing so may help us refrain from sending clowns to run them.