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Sunday, June 16, 2019

An Antidote For Cynicism

If you find yourself - as I frequently do - periodically succumbing to mindless, lazy cynicism when discussing the rancorous partisan divide in modern American politics, Accidental Presidents: Eight Men Who Changed America (2019) can be an effective antidote. In my experience, reading a book of history as rich and well researched as Jared Cohen's can restore some perspective to those of us who are regularly disillusioned watching our elected officials make asses of themselves. Because, much worse things have occurred in our not distant past. Consider:

* The 1876 Presidential election, decided by the House of Representatives when the votes of the Electoral College were in dispute. Samuel Tilden won the popular vote that year but Rutherford B. Hayes was handed the Presidency after his Republican party agreed to rollback Reconstruction. Thus was a good part of Lincoln's legacy, first casually tossed aside by our first-ever impeached Chief Executive, the despicable Andrew Johnson, now officially in the shitter. The South is still recovering.
* You think a Congressman yelling "Liar!" at then President Obama was bad? How about a fistfight in Congress? Or, even better, one elected official drawing a gun on another in those hallowed halls? You only need to go back to the mid 19th century to re-learn of politicians pulling far worse stunts than sleeping on the job, like the late, not-so-great Strom Thurmond.
* Despite my political affiliations, I've never been a big Kennedy fan; the patriarch of that clan was no role model. Still, reading Accidental Presidents reminded me - again - how LBJ got stuck with a growing morass in Vietnam in large part because JFK's crew - all nominal Democrats - were master obfuscators. And, Kennedy talked a good game vis-à-vis civil rights, but it took a lifelong Southerner with no progressive racial views to make things happen, helping to realize the long-delayed promise first codified by the 15th Amendment to the Constitution, one of the last Lincoln triumphs.

Reading the tangled, messy web of history is a source of constant inspiration for me. I hope one or more of you will pick up Accidental Presidents and share here what you learn or re-learn. Even better, I hope you'll tell me reading it acted as an antidote for that cynicism.  

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