Headmaster’s Thoughts — July 2016

Unfortunately, one of the clear characteristics of the current presidential race is that neither candidate is able to stir us with grand oratory. Worse, there seems an absence of real humor in their public presentations. Jokes, if they exist at all, are only mean ones made at the other candidate’s expense. I recall the genuine humor of Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and George Herbert Walker Bush. I remember the soft and authentic humor of Jimmy Carter, and I recall the majestic oratory of John Kennedy. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump? Certainly not yet!

Maybe it is the era of the “tweet” that produces these unattractive, negative campaigns. Maybe the times are just too serious, but I remember warmly the present Libertarian party candidate, Gary Johnson, who in a Republican debate in 2012, said “My next door neighbor’s two dogs have created more shovel-ready jobs than any created in the present administration.” Who knows if it was true? But it was funny and not mean spirited. I have not heard anything like that since.

My daughter, who worked for Mrs. Clinton in the State Department, assures me that she is warm and funny. Our Upper School Dean, Heather Marshall, who worked with her on an asthma program, assures me the same. I wish I could see that side of her. From what we have seen on this campaign so far, she seems uncomfortable with what one might call “retail” politics. She projects a tension that damages the connection with the people she meets. And, on the other side, although Trump does have a certain rough appeal, he then blows it all up with his outbursts and attacks. Beginning with his attack on a genuine hero, John McCain, he seems to have expanded his hit list to include whole groups of people. He seems neither as gracious nor as smart as he keeps telling us he is! The result is that in 2016 we have two awkward campaigns and a humorless race.

We are in for a tense fall. We will have our phones rung by robots, our screens hijacked by shrill fear-mongering, even our discussions with our friends may be affected by the divisiveness of these present-day politics. Yuck! In the end, I hope I can rely on my internal GPS to determine the best of the presidential candidates. John Locke described a “free society” as an ethical concept. I agree with that, but I wish he had included “good natured” or some such phrase as an equally important part of the “free society” he admired. I fear our politics are becoming humorless and, frankly, that scares me.

I hope that we all make the right decision. As an independent voter, I hope that I vote sensibly in November. I do believe that humor is vital to our personal and professional lives, and that it would make politics more palatable. If pushed, I would admit that my favorite book is an obscure Victorian description of a journey up the Thames called “Three Men in a Boat” by Jerome K. Jerome. No matter how many times I read it, I still laugh out loud at certain passages. Similarly, I can hear Mel Brooks’ “2000-Year-Old Man” skits again and again, and still crack up at their joyous absurdity. I do not ask for that standard of brilliance from our candidates; I just ask for civility, humor, and a competence that is demonstrated by an ease of manner. Is that too much to ask for the most important job in the Free World?

The slightly misanthropic Sir Walter Alexander Raleigh (not the Raleigh who popularized tobacco in the times of Elizabeth I, but the professor who died in 1922) wrote:

I wish I loved the Human Race;

I wish I loved its silly face;

I wish I liked the way it walks;

I wish I liked the way it talks;

And when I’m introduced to one,

I wish I thought “What Jolly Fun!”

Would it not be nice if we could “love” one of our presidential candidates and, if introduced to him or her, think “What Jolly Fun?”

Ronald P. Stewart

Headmaster

York Prep