The universe curves in on itself in mysterious ways, presenting identical scenarios with grotesquely differing casts of characters. The only remaining surprise, it seems, is in finding ourselves surprised when the “unthinkable” happens again.
Teddy Roosevelt charged uphill with his Bull Moose Progressives, animating a third-party candidacy, throwing the establishment power hierarchy into disarray and thoroughly shaking up the Republican Party from which he had defected.
F.D.R.’s election and his term of office brought relentless and frequently ugly criticism of the man, his policies, his wife, and his dog. Labelled a collectivist, a socialist, a fascist, a warmonger, Roosevelt’s name, like Voldemort’s , could not even be uttered aloud; for many Republicans, he was “That man in the White House”. Eleanor, the First Lady, was reviled for her active political support of progressive reform and chastised for using her position to make money as a writer and lecturer.
The New Deal presidency remains a golden moment for liberal progressives and a stain on American democracy for many conservatives. Time Magazine’s cover story on Donald Trump is titled, “The President of the Divided States”; FDR’s presidency was no less divisive.
In 1948, the Gallup, Roper, and Crosley polls all predicted a solid victory for Thomas Dewey over Harry Truman, leaving chagrined pollsters to “explain” away their failure to predict the outcome correctly.
In 1960, the Presidential race was excruciatingly close (Kennedy won by 0.17%), bringing disputed election results and demands for recount in Texas, Illinois, and New Jersey.
Finally, a much-anticipated Hollywood project will present an actor (not Will Ferrell, despite earlier reports) playing Ronald Reagan (an actor) as a President suffering from dementia who finishes his term in office by acting (as an actor) his role as President.
This all comes to mind as allegations of nepotism pepper Trump’s transition team(s); critics fear the influence of sons and daughters and various in-laws. It occurs to me that they may be forgetting JFK’s appointment of his brother as Attorney General of the United States in order to, as the President suggested, “get some legal experience.”
It isn’t easy to remember that those of us who were entranced by the Kennedys made them into celebrities; they charmed an admiring public into gawking, fawning admiration. We could not get enough of the Kennedys, and we didn’t care if paparazzi stalked Jackie in her bereavement and various Kennedy siblings and hangers-on in moments of personal tragedy or disgrace.
We called the moment, “Camelot”, and we relished our shining, polished, handsome political first family. For a few fleeting years, it was as if we, too, had royalty, an American version of royalty, attached to the business of government but essentially simply a phalanx of celebrities.
OK, so why not?
Why not recognize the fun to be had with a monarchy? President come and go, but Kings?
Kings can be flawed and spontaneous. They can dabble in every aspect of governance, knowing more than generals without serving in the military, discoursing on the economy without knowing the price of a gallon of milk. They might have opinions we might find offensive or misguided, but we know those Royals live in a world of their own.
I know, I know. It’s expensive to maintain a monarchy, but consider the costs if we don’t. It may that the only succor available to a nation as deeply divided as our own is in recognizing the necessary presence of a designated national celebrity to absorb our frustration, fear, and unrest.
Apparently our founding fathers did not agree with this supposition, but, it’s important to remember that they didn’t anticipate the constriction a two-party tradition would impose on government. Let’s give them credit for a pretty impressive first two-hundred and twenty-seven years and begin anew with a coronation rather than an inauguration.
I’m thinking Jay Z and Beyonce, of course, although I guess the Trumps could work as easily.
Or, I guess we could build enough good will across various constituencies to bring a truly viable third party into the mix. Hmmmmm. Worth a try.