I appear to be experiencing a bout of ennui. As we begin wading into the muck and mire of the presidential election cycle, I have wrapped myself in yellow plastic caution ribbon. Cautioning myself from falling into the pit that passes for discussion these days, and serving as a barrier to protect people from my own ire.
I prefer to term it ennui. It makes me seem like a troubled romantic, instead of how I feel below the surface: chicken shit.
While I’m certain I’m not alone, I can really only speak for myself when I say I’m still raw from the 2016 election. That’s not because of who wound up in The White House, it’s because of the path we took to get there. On election night while many of my like-minded friends were stunned by the results, it seemed an unsurprising end of a rocky vitriolic road. A logical end, even. In the film of my life, this scene concludes with a “Citizen Kane” close-up of my lips mouthing the words: that figures.
Look, I was doing pensive long before I knew who Hamlet was, so I could go on for this entire column about my alleged ennui and only my partner and a couple of loyal friends would read it through. Instead, I’m going to try a little experiment on myself and I’m hoping you might find it helpful too.
What do I want in a president? The way these things tend to go, we are told so-and-so has thrown their hat in the ring and we throw them under the microscope to take a look at what we have. If you’re on the opposite side, your task is to find the chinks in the armor; said chinks being whatever your party has decided is bad. In this exercise we throw the personalities out the window, we chuck the party system aside, we forget our allegiances and Erector Set our leader.
I think when a candidate runs they should remind citizens that, while the candidate might get to reside in The White House and eat off fancy china and have a private movie theater where they get to watch new releases before us, often with an Avenger seated next to them, we are not electing said candidate, we are electing us. Real change and sustaining a just and thriving America takes all of us.
Campaigns lose their way when they become about who gets to be on the top of the mountain; when egos take control. Running for office is most helpful to the public when it is regarded as a process. A campaign can be, and in my opinion should be, about bettering our world. The candidate can exchange ideas, listen, change minds, have their mind changed— and acknowledge that process. If your candidate was truly in it for betterment, you’ll see them continue to work towards viable ideas when they haven’t received a nomination.
I put kindness high on the list. Imagine a president who every day wakes up with gratitude acknowledging that to make their day happen, already so many kindnesses have been done for them. They understand that to have their morning egg, there is a myriad of people to thank— the cook, the person who made the stove it was cooked on, the person who delivered, the workers who built the truck it was delivered in, the people working for the fuel company. You can follow that line of thinking on your own, but don’t forget the chicken. When you try to keep this a forethought, then it makes sense to be kind, because you aren’t in this alone.
If you happen to be among those who think being kind is a weakness, that a kind person can’t be strong when they need to, I encourage you take a closer look at the life and lessons of Fred Rogers. Yes, really.
Can we have a little decorum up in here? A well-spoken leader who can handle their temper under pressure and speak respectfully to their opponents. While I’m at it maybe a bit of the culture should change here; instead of opponents, maybe they should only be referred to as fellow candidates. Take a moment to imagine your candidate in a crisis. Will they be able to steadily look into a camera, acknowledge the tragedy without regard for who might have written a campaign check, and assure us we will be okay? They are, when truth be told, the parent of our country. In this case, though, we get to choose our parent.
For some readers, my next point will be controversial, but I think a president does need to be a person of faith. That is not to say the person needs to be of a particular religion, but I think they should have a solid belief system. During the election, they should be open about their faith, while acknowledging that there are so many in our country and we all have the right to practice without fear.
While I was writing this column, I discovered our kitchen overrun by coffee. I had forgotten to put a piece of the pot back in place. I’m human and I recognize that my Build-A-Prez is as well, in fact I want them to be human. Humility is key to leadership. If my president forgets to put a piece of the coffeemaker in place, then they will acknowledge the mistake and clean up the kitchen.
It is our task to sift through the onslaught of internet detritus to determine who deserves our vote. Decide who you’re looking for beforehand and maybe it will help keep you present.