Columns » Bob Lancaster

Serenity now

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I’ve been squinting around here trying to read the handwriting on the wall, and what I’ve seen isn’t encouraging, but I take quadrennial courage if not comfort from a truth that I learned by living a long time and following elections since Harry Truman: it doesn’t really matter who’s elected president. It seems to matter at the time. And maybe it does matter a little bit, once or twice in a generation, once or twice in a hundred years. But usually it doesn’t. There’s an inevitability in things. And it dwarfs presidents; it dwarfs us all. They get in there and make a mess of it, and people grouse, but forgive them – and the country staggers on. If Ronald Reagan hadn’t been president, the Soviet Union still would’ve collapsed – right on schedule. It was fated to collapse because it was a bad idea. It was like one of those flawed Goodyear tires. You can get good mileage out of a bad tire. But you know that flaw is there, and fate isn’t to be tempted or trifled with. That wall would’ve come down whether or not President Fritz Mondale told Mr. Gorbachev to tear it down. If Lincoln hadn’t been president to proclaim it, the slaves still would’ve been freed. It might even have turned out better for them. It certainly would’ve turned out better for Lincoln. This line of thinking says that even without Lincoln there still would’ve been a war because our people were of a mind to fight one. They needed to slaughter 499,000 of each other to get it out of their system, and that’s near about exactly how many they did slaughter, and they sloughed off slavery in the process – another bad idea whose time had come. Louisiana would’ve been purchased even without Jefferson in the White House to sign the check, and if President Burr had thenceforth transfigured as King Aaron I of the Transmississippi, which he most likely would have, still Wal-Marts and mushy tomatoes would’ve claimed the new territory in due time, and the pioneers would have wagoned across the wide Missouri and Pine Bluff would be Pine Bluff, more or less, for better or worse. The Gadsden Purchase, too, and Seward’s Folly could’ve been Smith’s Folly or Jones’ Folly and what the hell difference would it have made to us? It just wasn’t our manifest destiny, though, to acquire Mexico under any president Polk to Wilson or under any of their opponents who might have been president if they’d been luckier. As far as Mexico, I think all the parties agree now that that failure to merge was a good thing. We would’ve messed it up. Even worse than the Mexicans have. And then who would Tyson Foods have got to cut up and package all those chickens? The Depression would’ve waylaid us, even steered through the Roaring Twenties by a succession of crackerjack Democratic prezzes instead of the triptych of Republican slugs. And the country would’ve bootstrapped out of the Depression even without a New Deal. It would’ve won the war, too, even if it had been Alf Landon or Wendell Willkie there at Yalta. Maybe even if it had been Dewey, though that stretches sanguininity. Hitler would’ve lost, anyhow, and Germany would’ve apologized insincerely, and Israel would have come to pass, just as scabrous televangelists continue to prophesy, and the Holocaust Museum would be just as instructive about what basic human decency entails. Even if Hitler had won, all of that still would’ve transpired, only a few lines of text having meantime morphed. If we really hadn’t had Nixon to kick around any more, President Humphrey or President McGovern would’ve weirded out there on the Oval Office throw, crawling around beseeching whoever their Kissinger was to pray with them, and to their God in preference to his. All the little girls wouldn’t have toadstooled up if Goldwater had won, Goldwater himself hanging on long enough to endorse Clinton for a second term, which just shows to go you. Hard to imagine any good coming of the fascist impeachment, but Elvis evicted might have given President Gore the headstart he obviously needed. And then he would’ve had to deal with 9/11, and he would have, and surely he wouldn’t have effed if up any worse. Probably wouldn’t have done any better with it, though. The arguments against sangfroid usually include this one: Yeah, but presidents appoint judges. But even there you never know. It was phlegmatic Eisenhower who brought aboard the rehabbed xenophobe Earl Warren. And untold millions of legally aborted fetuses can thank the Trick for elevating Harry Blackmun. Reagan atoned for Scalia with Sandra O’Connor, though Satan prospered in the tradeoff. Second-term George W. Bush might very well nominate evil John Ashcroft or buffoon Jerry Falwell, but even so he couldn’t outbad his daddy in this regard, and, emboldened by the stretchout, he might pass over the usual suspects in favor of somebody secretly sane, a Judge Judy say. Anyway, the counsel here is, don’t invest your ego in the election-year fortunes of people who are your inferiors in more ways than you might imagine. Work for your candidate, root for your candidate, but however it comes out, remember it’s not the end of the world.

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