I was raised in the American patriotic tradition. At home and in school, we looked to the founding fathers as icons. When my attention turned to Roman history, I found the same sort of admiration for a man named Cincinnatus. He was a dictator, but to his credit he only held the office for a few days and he only held it twice. Under Roman law, the dictatorship was reserved for extreme crises and it came with a clearly defined term: the duration of the crisis or one year, whichever was shorter. Both times Cincinnatus was asked to serve his city, he managed to shepherd the nascent republic to safety and promptly resigned. Not every Roman dictator left his term so willingly.
This November, we will choose our next chief executive. I think that because of the extreme and increasing power of the Office of the President, we should be especially cognizant of each candidate’s restraint and humility. Candidates who have used their offices for self promotion should be looked at with great suspicion, as should any person who seems to use their office arbitrarily. Their actions do more than enrich bad actors through misspent taxes; they whittle away at the soul of our nation.
Our experiment in democracy is held together by faith in each other and in our electoral system. While we have weathered petty tyrants who viewed their elected offices as their personal fiefdoms before, I do not know if our faith has ever been so strongly shaken. Our nation relies on the humility of its citizens to know that they are a small part of something greater, but personal humility is worthless without something worth venerating. Without the perceived sanctity of our project, I worry what may become of us.
Addendum: Today is the 23rd of November and President Trump has not yet conceded to President-elect Biden. While a formal concession is unnecessary, he has actively hindered the transition of power to his opponent by denying him the funds necessary to assemble a government and by denying him access to security briefings. Regardless of the merit (or lack-thereof, based on his recent record in the court system) of Trump’s legal challenges to the election, presidential candidates of both parties are traditionally entitled to government provided security briefings. If Trump truly believed that the election was compromised and not simply that he should have been re-elected, he wouldn’t withhold information from the man who will likely replace him as our country’s leader and who should at minimum still be treated as a current candidate.
I have been greatly disappointed in the state of politics in my country in the last few years. To see so little respect from the President towards the same electoral process that saw him elected is deeply saddening, though not totally surprising. Unfortunately, without elections that are universally recognized as fair, our democracy can even die in the light.