On the Scenes and Sounds of Democracy


For well over a year now the American public (as well as many thousands of foreigners who reside here and elsewhere) were subjected to countless de­bates and discussions, articles and editorials, speeches and commercials per­taining to the grand event that, like the International Olympics, occurs every four years in this country: the American Presidential elections.

      Many are the seekers of the highest elected and the most prestigious of­fice in the land. Early in the game, they make their desires public one way or another. Then we slowly come to know so much about all these ambitious, and often little known, public figures: their records and their remote past, their values and world views, their tax status and tragedies, and lots lots more. Through a process peculiar to the American system, two of them emerge as the leading contenders of the two leading parties by late July or early August.

      During this process, there are many ups and downs for the contenders, hopes and disappointments, and continual mutual aspersions also. There is no telling who will emerge as the final candidate, for the most unexpected event could spell the doom of a candidate. One year, for example, we saw a promising politician tumble down because he was discovered smooching with an attractive damsel while his wife stayed far away with their children. Another time a potential president promptly withdrew because he had quoted from the speech of a British politician without acknowledging the source. Yet another hopeful was once counted out by the public when he claimed direct conversations with God almighty. It’s okay to talk to God, but if you claim to have received a return call, it is serious.

      Anyway, finally the two major parties select their standard bearers, and these two in turn, by judgment, for regional strategy, or through just bad advice, an­nounce their running mates. Often a couple of inconspicuous marginal candidates also show up on the list. Their impact is invariably to wreck the chances for one of the principal candidates.

      Then begins the season of wooing the public. Now newscasters get even more eager, the candidates consult media magicians who, like medieval potion-peddlers, try to transform the dullest dunces into charismatic Caesars. Word-smiths concoct catchy phrases and speeches, handlers tell the candidates what to tell to whom and when, and the candidates themselves rehearse gestures and smiles for TV cameras.

      Some news organizations, impatient for the final results, periodically poll a handful of potential voters and proclaim, on the basis of basic (and ques­tionable) statistics, and naively replying on the honesty of the respondents, who is likely to win if the elections were held that week. What purpose such an imaginary news item serves is a mystery that few can fathom. But it has become part of the ritual.

      A small section of the public that reads the papers, listens to PBS, and watches Meet the Press and Face the nation, gets to know the issues and what the candidates stand for. The majority forms their impressions from TV commercials and newspaper headlines, and is generally swayed by those that say the sweetest things about themselves and the most horrible things about their opponents. A significant fraction of the population is more thrilled by foot­ball and video movies than by political ideologies.

      And so at last the momentous day arrives. This is a feast day for TV com­mentators, experts who play on a large touch screen to show which states are blue (Democratic) and which are red  (Republican). It used to be that competing networks based on their statistical programs announced at the earliest who, according to their calculations, has won even before the polling booths closed in California.

      Then the decisive moment arrives. The results are announced. One of the candidates concedes, in the presence of his tearful supporters, victory to the opponent. This is the price one pays for this democratic system: Every four years 50 +/- % of the people have to shed tears on this November day when the next Presi­dent of the United States is announced to the world at large.

All this is part of the sounds and scenes of democracy in action.  There is much one can criticize here, there is much to be improved in the unfolding of the spectacle. But we should not lose sight of the fact that one way or another, every willing citizen of the land is drawn into the process. Teachers and truck drivers, artists and scientists, doctors and plumbers, one and all are touched by the din and dance of the democratic drama.

The most moving and significant occur­rence in all of this is that climactic moment when one of the candidates con­gratulates the other. This is civilized government at its best: The reins of govern­ment go from hand to hand, not through bloody battles or conniving conspiracy, not by sabotage and subterfuge, or by taking the head of state prisoner, but in full view of the public and in accordance with what the ballot box dictates.

So it was that Donald Trump was declared President-Elect, i.e. the next President of the United States early this morning (November 9, 2016). At least some credit or blame for his success must be given to forces that created, rightly or wrongly, fear  and job-insecurity in the hearts of vast numbers of simple Americans.  While millions rejoice in his victory there are also millions in the country today who are saddened and dejected by the defeat of a patriotic, intelligent, and immensely qualified candidate who could have become the first woman president of the United States. That is a great disappointment indeed.

My own feeling is that the next four years may not turn out to be as terrible as some fear, nor perhaps as glorious as some others are hoping for. All we can do is to join the vast majority in praying for the well-being and well-fare of the country.

November 9, 2016

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