For The Sake Of The Nation, End These Traditions
Please No More Dixville Notch
I consider myself a pretty corny guy. I like very cheesy things. Every year around the Christmas season I re-watch It’s A Wonderful Life and fume at the incompetence of Uncle Billy, remark how more and more Mr. Potter sounds like what we would call a “moderate” Republican these days, and cry bawling when George Bailey prevents Mr. Gower from committing murder. I like my cheese and Americana in heavy doses.
But when it comes to politics, I want to reach for a puke funnel when it’s time for the hoariest traditions connected to our elections.
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Consider the primary vote that occurs at midnight every four years in New Hampshire at Dixville Notch. The town loves to ham it up for the hundreds of tv news cameras in attendance and while I can’t blame the city fathers and mothers for milking their quadrennial moment in the sun, I just roll my eyes.
The late-night shenanigans are symptomatic of the whole problem with putting so much in the basket of the primary and its brother in ridiculousness, the Iowa caucus. Look, the caucus had a great moment in proving that yes, America would vote for a Black man with the middle name “Hussein,” but in general both contests are out of touch with normal America. The country doesn’t look anything like these two extremely white states, and they shouldn’t have such an elevated role in picking the leader of the free world.
But even worse, its all so goofy and rote. The coverage of the primary and caucus drips with nostalgia for an America that never was. At least we can acknowledge that George Bailey and his angel companion Clarence is fiction, but the notion that democracy was at its purest when monochromatic small towns did the deciding is nonsensical. The longer we hold up these contests as the historic ideal, the longer we refuse to acknowledge that the country has come a long way – in the best way.
But isn’t just the primary/caucus that grinds my gears. I don’t have anything against state fairs, per se, and I would like to see the spectacle of the Iowa State Fair with my own two eyes just to say, “I saw it.” But enough with the parade of politicians solemnly eyeing butter sculptures and eating corn dogs and sampling local fudge. I understand the need for retail politics, but you can’t seriously tell me that a gaggle of reporters watching then-Senator Barack Obama drive a bumper car is worth any of our time.
The worst of these occasions I leave for the last: The White House Correspondent’s Dinner.
I think Donald Trump is a fascist racist misogynist who shouldn’t be Assistant to the Assistant Deputy Dog Catcher in the smallest town in America, but the one thing he did in the presidency that I 100% agree with is skipping the Correspondent’s Dinner.
Of course, Trump skipped the ceremony for the wrong reason, his terror at a room full of people who have told the truth about him. But his decision to skip the dinner is the one call the man made that I will back to the hilt. It’s my version of praising the fascists for trains running on time.
One of the few things I regret about President Joe Biden getting elected is that he resumed the Correspondents’ Dinner tradition. Yes, the jokes were fine, and so were the jokes under President Barack Obama and even George W. Bush (at least when he wasn’t joking about not finding weapons of mass destruction).
But the event is a microcosm of everything wrong with media and politics in the country. Journalism is supposed to be the watchman of democracy, the advance guard in protecting our liberty and freedom. How is that even remotely possible when you’re clinking glasses with the subjects you’re supposed to be watching over, while simultaneously on the lookout for B and C list celebrities in attendance?
It isn’t. The dinner compromises reporters and our elected leaders in an orgy of insularity that contributes to justifiable public cynicism about the whole system. That’s the kind of attitude that directly contributed to the rise of Trump and the likeminded authoritarians now drifting in his wake.
As part of the first American-born generation of an immigrant family, I think I am overall a little less jaded about hokey Americanism than families that have been here for multiple generations. But when it comes to politicians and the press and these pantomimes I’ve had enough. End the charade and let us move on from the hoary traditions of the past.
Now, hand me my hamburger off the grill, let me put on my red, white and blue baseball cap, and turn the TV on for the game. This is America, after all. We have traditions to stick to.
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