Veterans Day and Election Day 2016


Jem, Conan (who couldn’t be present) and I all salute our country, our veteran relations and ancestors, and our democratic process.

In part, Veterans Day and Election Day are close enough together this year that I decided to combine the two together into one post. This isn’t normally my practice, but the theme I’m going to talk about here links into both, as it’s a matter that links the two days together.  As I’ve done before, I’m writing for all three of us, and adding their signatures to this article with my friends’ review and permission, for which I thank them most gratefully.

We at Around the Grid all have a father or grandfather who served in the U. S. armed forces at some point — as well, doubtless, as any number of ancestors we have never known — and we were raised “traditionally” enough to have a reasonably strong sense of patriotism, along with belief in our country and its inherent good and decency.  Our ancestors fought on behalf of the United States in any number of wars, going back to the Revolutionary War, because they believed in those facts.  They desired the right of a man — and now of a person — to be free, to determine their own destiny with the least imposition of rule by the government over them, and only by their own consent when the government did institute a law of some kind.  Jem and Conan haven’t mentioned any specifics about their fathers; but I can tell you that my own, as I think I’ve mentioned in the past, fought and bled for those ideals in France in World War II.  (This is the reason I wear the purple duster I have on above, for Dad’s Purple Heart; and the purple strip in Jemmy’s dress is suggestive.)  Many more since have fought, or simply served and stood ready to defend this country against its perceived enemies.  Again, as this blog tries to do every year, we salute those men and women — not always understood, never enough appreciated, often wounded in spirit as well as body, but willing to lay their lives down if called upon for the greater good.

We also thank and salute the men and women of the countries that have stood with us over the years in the same struggle.  They owe us a great debt for our help — but the same can be said by us for their aid in less frequent times of need.  One of those countries, Great Britain, produced the beliefs in law and good government that, hopefully we try to practice to this day, and have also given us any number of great statesmen we should model ourselves on, at least in part.  Winston Churchill once said this in the House of Commons (December 8, 1944):

How is that word “democracy” to be interpreted? My idea of it is that the plain, humble, common man, just the ordinary man who keeps a wife and family, who goes off to fight for his country when it is in trouble, goes to the poll at the appropriate time, and puts his cross on the ballot paper showing the candidate he wishes to be elected to Parliament—that he is the foundation of democracy. And it is also essential to this foundation that this man or woman should do this without fear, and without any form of intimidation or victimization. He marks his ballot paper in strict secrecy, and then elected representatives and together [sic] decide what government, or even in times of stress, what form of government they wish to have in their country. If that is democracy, I salute it. I espouse it. I would work for it.

That thing — the ability to make our choice periodically, to have our say in how we wish to be governed, is the cornerstone of democracy, one of the things our veterans in both the United Kingdom and the United States fought for.  Government has definitely become a much more complex thing than the Founding Fathers ever imagined it to be, and the events of the Great Depression and World War II sent American government in a direction we may never pull it back from.  But at heart, the political process is just this — each person’s desire to have their say in shaping that inherent good and decency I referred to above, trying to make it, within each person’s understanding, better and more decent.  In the end, we go along with Stephen Decatur’s often abridged and mangled statement, made as a loyalty toast at a dinner:  “Our country! In her intercourse with foreign nations, may she always be in the right; but our country, right or wrong.”  Decatur referred to international relations, being a naval man, but the same thing can be said of domestic matters.  With our right to vote, we have the ability and duty to try and insure that our country remains in the right, maintains the good and decency we stand for.

I use that statement above — “inherent good and decency” — advisedly, and for good reason.  We don’t say here “perfection”; no institution created by the human mind can ever achieve that status, and the United States is no exception.  Our democracy, along with other true democracies, is more an example of Churchill’s rather more famous statement —

“Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

And another, again less well known:

“The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”

Sadly, the campaigns of this past electoral year prove Churchill out.  Heart-achingly so, as a matter of fact.  2016’s presidential electoral cycle has been even more broken than any we’ve seen since Election Day 2000, when the outcome of the vote was literally hanging on tiny pieces of paper.  Instead of issues, this election has been driven far more by personality, by tweets and screeds and blanket statements unsupported by facts — sometimes on both sides.  The electorate itself is far more driven by hot-button issues, a longing for days that social change and modern technology have forced us past, and (especially) uncritical belief in simplistic 140-character statements and Facebook meme images.  The rot can go back even farther, to the repeal of the FCC’s Fairness Doctrine, and the rise of political pundits employed to fill network airtime and nothing else, for the sake of selling commercials and gaining ratings.  An electorate with at least a chance of being reasonably informed began vanishing at that point, and the tendency of people to follow in a herdlike, overly-partisan mentality asserted itself.  That tendency has, all too often, failed the electorate, and resulted in governments that were not just lame and ineffective, but often dangerous.  (One such government was allowed free rein by its country’s people — resulting in the war in which my father lost his eye while trying to stop that government from triumphing.)

It is the responsibility, the duty, of each eligible citizen to vote.  If we don’t vote, we break faith with the people who fought for this country, and all too often died in defense of its freedom and policy.  Another quote, this time from John McCrae’s poem, “In Flanders Fields” — but this time the less-known final stanza:

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

But it is also the duty of every eligible person to vote intelligently and knowingly, for national, state and local candidates, and for the initiatives they may face on their ballots.  I suspect none of us at Around the Grid can claim perfection on that matter.  But the important thing is that we try to be informed, to make the choices that we hope will result in good government — and then that our choices, whoever they may be, stand up to their statements and principles and achieve that work.  If you’re eligible to vote tomorrow (or today, if you’re reading this on November 8), we urge you to go and vote.  My colleagues agree with my own political views here — I won’t say which it is, as I’m not going to take this blog into a specific political stance.  It’s not this blog’s responsibility to tell you who to vote for, but to urge you to vote, period, as I’ve done every two years in the past.  But we all three, as the corporate authors of Around the Grid, beg you to vote not with the gut, not with anger and prejudice; rather to vote with the mind, with rationality and thoughtfulness and charity, and then abide the outcome no matter who wins.  If the divisiveness of this past year continues, then we fear for the continued existence of our American democracy as we grew up to see it.


For those of you who profess to Christianity, I invite you to join personally with me in the following prayer, from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.  If you are of another religion, then I invite you to pray to the divine as you perceive the divine to be.

Almighty God, to whom we must account for all our powers
and privileges: Guide the people of the United States (or of
this community) in the election of officials and representatives;
that, by faithful administration and wise laws, the rights of
all may be protected and our nation be enabled to fulfill your
purposes; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

A month’s worth of prayers for this election, all except the last taken from the BCP, can be downloaded at the Web site of Forward Movement.



signature 3 Jem's signature Conan's signature

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