Election-Year Weirdness: An American Tradition

A presidential election is looming in my country. We have one every four years.

Great Seal of the United States, reverse side, colorized.Maybe I’d get more attention by demonizing or deifying a candidate.

Or saying that nobody should vote, because “they” put subliminal messages in ballots. Oddly enough, I haven’t heard that claim.

Or I could express deep despair over the demonizing, deifying and drivel that dominates news and social media.

I could do any or all of the above. But my heart wouldn’t be in it.

I am quite sure that no candidate is a fascist, the antichrist or a pawn of the Illuminati-pixie cabal. I don’t even think the Illuminati-pixie cabal exists.

And, although I’d prefer election campaigns with less sound and fury, that’s not how my country works. Emotional appeals and wild claims are an old American tradition.

Looking Back on Brawls of Yesteryear

Take the 1912 election, for example. Some folks still don’t agree about Roosevelt, Taft and anti-trust policies.

Grant Hamilton's cartoon comment on William Jennings Bryan's 1896 'Cross of Gold' speech at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.Then there were the 1896 election’s campaign issues.

The Panic of 1893 was still in progress. It was an economic depression, a bad one.

I suspect it felt even worse, since America’s economy had been growing during the 1870s and 80s.

(Over-) investment in an Argentine bank, a failed coup and a crop failure spooked European investors, who started pulling gold out of the U.S. Treasury.

Then the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad failed. Americans started pulling their money out of banks and academics are still discussing why the house of cards collapsed.

In 1896, some folks thought America should switch from a gold standard to a silver standard. Or maybe bimetallism, linking a monetary unit’s value to two metals.

Watson Heston's 1896 political cartoon, warning against 'Single Gold Standard,' 'Interest on Bonds' and 'Wall Street Pirates.'And all that’s an over-simplified version.

Small wonder that some politicos boiled the issues down to America being nailed to a “cross of gold.” And reminding voters to be angry at the usual suspects.

That sort of thing’s much easier to remember, come election day.

The 1876 elections were no picnic, either. In some ways, they were even more — contentious? polarizing? — than the 1896 or 2020 fracases.

The 1796 election was the first time we had political parties pushing candidates: not today’s parties. The 1804 Burr-Hamilton duel threatened a cherished tradition,1 and that’s another topic. Topics.

Love of Country: Within Reason

My life might be easier, if I stayed offline and busied myself in reading Nero Wolf novels and playing solitaire.

But that’s not an option. Not if I take being a Catholic seriously. Patriotism comes with the territory. I’d better explain that.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary says a patriot is someone “who loves and supports his or her country.”2

As a Catholic, I should act as if loving God and my neighbors matters. And see everyone as my neighbor. (Matthew 5:4344, 7:12, 22:3640, Mark 12:2831; 10:2527, 2937; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1789)

Being Catholic also means I’m obliged to do what’s possible in public life: which includes recognizing humanity’s solidarity and respecting authority. Within reason. (Catechism, 1778, 1915, 18971917, 19391942, 2199, 22382243)

And loving my country. Again, within reason. Letting love of country slop over into worship of country is a bad idea. A very bad idea. (Catechism, 21122114, 2199, 2239)

Happily, loving my country doesn’t take much effort.

I like being an American, on the whole. My ‘could take it or leave it, and would rather leave it’ attitude toward my country’s politics notwithstanding, I don’t even mind voting. I think it’s a pretty good way of getting citizen feedback.

But I don’t think our system is the only ‘correct’ form of government. Different cultures and eras have different needs, and that’s okay. Provided that the system follows natural law: ethical principles that apply to every time and place. (Catechism, 1915, 19571958)

Thinking, Voting and a Hypothetical Situation

Recapping: as a Catholic, I should be a good citizen, contributing to the good of society and taking part in public life. (Catechism, 1915, 2239)

In America, that includes thinking about issues and candidates, voting for whoever and whatever is best; or likely to do the least damage, as the case may be.

Clarifying “do the least damage” — I don’t mean “choosing the lesser of two evils.”

A few things are just plain wrong, no matter what the circumstances. Murder, killing an innocent person, is one of them. (Catechism, 17501756, 17861789, 22582283)

Let’s take a hypothetical situation —

Someone running for Minnesota governor supports my state’s farmers, resort owners and middle-to-lower-income taxpayers. For me, that might be an almost ideal candidate.

Just one problem. This nearly-perfect wannabe governor also promised to euthanize Minnesotans who are too old or sick to enjoy my state’s resorts.

Nobody’s going to run on a platform like that. Not blatantly, at any rate. Like I said: a hypothetical situation.

I think Minnesota’s tourism and agriculture industries are important. I also figure that non-upper-crust folks matter as much as those in the social register.

But I’m getting to be too old for water skiing, and have several health problems. And I prefer to keep breathing. Even if I was young and in perfect health, euthanasia would be the opposite of a good idea. Whether I was the euthanee or the euthanor.

It’d be a bad idea, even if I had an emotionally-compelling reason. (November 24, 2019)

Knowing how I should think about voting helps. But it doesn’t make the process easy.

I’ve voted in every election since I’ve been old enough, and have yet to see an ideal candidate. I have, however, had many opportunities to practice patience and detachment.

And that’s yet another topic.

Resources — or — Not Emulating the Burr-Hamilton Duel

Edison Lee comic: does anyone even know what truth looks like any more?I’ve updated my list of election resources.

They don’t tell me who to vote for, but do show me what’s important and what’s not in deciding how I vote.

This year I’m adding “Civil Dialog.” It includes a seven-point list of “… possible ground rules for civil dialogue:”

  1. Make sure everyone has an opportunity to speak.
  2. Share your personal experience, not someone else’s.
  3. Listen carefully and respectfully. Speak carefully and respectfully. Do not play the role of know-it-all, convincer or corrector. Remember that a dialogue is not a debate.
  4. Don’t interrupt unless for clarification or time keeping.
  5. Accept that no group or viewpoint has a complete monopoly on the truth.
  6. “Be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another’s statement than [to] condemn it” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2478, quoting St. Ignatius of Loyola).
  7. Be cautious about assigning motives to another person.

And now, resources from the USCCB (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops):


Vaguely-related posts:


1 American elections, mostly:

2 A definition:

  • patriot
    Merriam-Webster dictionary

About Brian H. Gill

I'm a sixty-something married guy with six kids, four surviving, in a small central Minnesota town. I mostly write and make digital art. I'm only interested in three things: that which exists within the universe; that which exists beyond; and that which might exist.
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3 Responses to Election-Year Weirdness: An American Tradition

  1. You really have good taste in comics, Mr. Gill. Or maybe I’m just quite entertained by the ones with the brooding kids. Can’t say I’m not one myself, but I feel like making fun of our madness. We’re all into mindless self-indulgence as well, yet we got the guts to ask people to be “woke,” whatever that means. Not like we don’t need to advocate social justice, but we’re usually going at it like the blind leading the blind, as much as we and our pride hate to admit it. Even funnier is how such behavior is as old as the events in the Bible.

    Anyway, it’s not really election period in my country right now (around two years until the next one, I think?), but with America being the bulge that it is upon the world’s consciousness whether we like it or not, I end up thinking about it one way or another. Now, if I had to express my opinion about voting, well, I’d say that I’m all for it, even though my fellow scumbags usually dominate the options. Everyday has progress, little it may seem most of the time, and feedback’s important, even though it can have quite the sting most of the time. As for campaigning…well, I think I’d rather spend more time appreciating the fact that how I cast my vote should be a well-kept secret. Maybe I have to reveal my alignment sometimes, but I don’t think I have to showboat it. Besides, we already have more than enough of that crap everyday. XD

    • 😀

      On a more serious note, agreed: the secret ballot – – – for citizens – – – is a good idea. And I’m glad that legislators **don’t** vote on measures anonymously. That sort of thing gives us something to think about, come the next election.

Thanks for taking time to comment!