Don’t give up voting on election day.

During a sea battle in the War of 1812, as he lay dying in his quarters, Captain James Lawrence spoke his last words: “Don’t give up the ship.” For good or ill, his crew did exactly that as soon as Lawrence died. A few months later, though, commander Oliver Hazard Perry won a decisive victory in the Battle of Lake Erie, flying a flag that quoted Lawrence’s last words.

Don't give up voting on election day.

The dying words of Capt. James Lawrence and the triumphal slogan of Oliver Hazard Perry

This quote, and its history of failure followed by success, came to my mind when a friend despaired of this election saga in a Facebook post, writing “I have no faith in my fellow Americans anymore.” I do and here’s why:

While some people have come unhinged during this very long election slog, I believe that our better natures will prevail once we are not constantly being wound up by a click-hungry, cynical news media that has abandoned responsibility to act in the public interest. We’ve been through worse, so don’t give up voting on election day.

Experience Matters

At this risk of sounding preachy, I’ll say that this anti-intellectual, “we-hate-elites” strain in populism is what makes it so dangerous. Elite, educated thinkers like Franklin, Jefferson, Madison, and Hamilton founded this republic. Businessmen like Paul Revere and radicals like the Sons of Liberty had vital roles to play, but they did not have the global experience to lead the nation once the revolution was over.

We won the revolution because elites like Franklin, Adams, and Jefferson went over to France and negotiated an alliance. Shortly thereafter, the Constitution was built on compromise, even in the midst of fierce partisanship. We need radicals to shake us out of complacency and call our attention to injustice, but not to hold the reins of power, and certainly not to negotiate on behalf of the nation.

So Do Patience and Inclusion

Guys like Trump and Sanders offer quick and easy answers to problems within existing systems, but have no realistic ideas about how to actually fix things. As Trump says, he just wants to “blow up” Washington. Hillary Clinton is a reformer, not a radical. She’s good at building working partnerships and I believe she will lead us in making things better. True, change will be incremental, but that is better than a deadlocked government fueled by cable without conscience.

Don't give up voting on election day.

Vote: No matter how you say it, be sure to do it.

When vested powers feel threatened, they freak out and push back. That’s why the atmosphere is so venomous now. Going slow and being inclusive is tiresome and not everyone is cut out for it. Hillary Clinton is. And there are Republicans who are also. The reformers in both parties will find each other. So “be just and fear not” (Shakespeare, Henry VIII), and be sure to vote.

On Taxes and Public Service: Being My Own Pundit

When Ben Franklin remarked that “nothing is certain except death and taxes” he didn’t anticipate the spectacle of a major party candidate bragging about being a tax dodger during a presidential debate. Donald Trump asserted that he was “smart” for not paying federal income tax. To my mind, that’s not smart at all, especially for someone who is supposedly a great business person. He should understand that taxes are our communal  investment in America and that public service is an honorable calling.

Hillary and Trump Debate Public Service

Hillary crosses into Trump territory for the initial hand shake — a varsity wrestling move.

Taxes make it possible to be a great nation. To hold elections. Conduct commerce. Make laws. Taxes pay the heating bills in the House of Representatives. They provide schools to educate workers for Donald Trump to hire. Taxes build roads and subways so people can get to Trump’s job sites. Water and sewer systems to keep Trump’s golf courses green.

Public Service versus Career Politicians

Taxes pay the salaries of public servants, whom Trump derides as “career politicians.” George H. W. Bush (R) had an outstanding public service career, serving as a congressman, ambassador, director of the CIA, vice president, and president. So did Gerald Ford (R), who served in the House for 25 years before becoming vice-president, then president due to the scandals of Richard Nixon, whom Ford pardoned at the expense of his own legacy because it was the right thing to do for the country.

Franklin Roosevelt (D) served in state and federal positions for 35 years. He was elected president a record four times, created the economic miracle that dug us out of the Great Depression, and navigated our nation through the heinous Second World War. Jacob Javits (R-NY) served in Congress for 30 years; Everett Dirksen (R-IL) for 34 and Robert Byrd (D-VW) for 51.

Well, you get the idea. And I get the point that Trump is trying to make, albeit artlessly. But there is a difference between public servants and careerists, just as there is a difference between smart businesspeople and a scofflaw huckster. And Donald Trump is the latter.

To Watch or Not to Watch? Debating the Debates

Years ago, in a very funny book called Parliament of Whores, conservative political satirist P. J. O’Rourke dubbed television news “the fourth branch of government.” That was never more true than now, when 24/7 cable produces pseudo-news hour after hour, in pursuit of eyeballs and clicks. And the industry is salivating over the current election debates.

How television will cover the debates

A satire of politics and Washington

Yes, internet commentary is ubiquitous (and often crazy) but it tends to be more authentic than television because it lacks the pretense of serious journalism beamed out by CNN, Fox and their clones. The endless and shallow commentary offered up by people whose main objective is to sell advertising has worn me out, and I imagine many others too.

So what to do about these debates between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump? Do I watch and grit my teeth as Trump distorts truth with impunity? Shall I sit on the edge of my sofa, stomach in knots, while Hillary is interrogated yet again about “her damn emails?” This morning I thought not. But as the day goes on and the time of the first debate nears, I find myself circling the flame, feeling that it is somehow irresponsible not to watch. Or perhaps I am simply justifying a need for spectacle, like the ancient Romans who flocked to the circus.

The Debates Are a Form of Living History

Hillary Clinton brings ample experience to the debates.

Hillary Clinton speaks at UN Women’s Conference

It doesn’t really matter. Much as I’ve complained about this election, I can’t not be part of history. And it is history, regardless of who wins. Certainly I hope to see Hillary Clinton in the White House, and not because she’s female. I would not lift a finger to elect a Sarah Palin or a Nikki Haley. In fact, I would campaign against them. I want to see Hillary become president because she is a feminist who has always acted on the conviction that women and children matter.

So my solution is to watch the debates, but to boycott the commentary. It’s all biased one way or another and I’ve heard it all by now anyway. I’ll decide for myself who scored points about what, and how I think each candidate performed. I hope other voters will do the same.

P.S. O’Rourke, a traditional conservative, says he is voting for Hillary.