I am ready, willing and perfectly able to admit that when it comes to big picture stuff, the machinations of governments and populations and financial markets and such, I do not have even the vaguest glimmer of understanding of what's going on. I have tried, and it always seems to me that the understanding of, say, economics is predicated on either a prerequisite grasp of arcane principles or a faith-like belief in some kind of witchery or other intangible, and probably both. I have never not been amazed at the fact that people will trade valuable Stuff for apparently worthless paper tokens which allegedly symbolize the government's willingness to support the claim of its intrinsic worth, which sounds to me — the layman — like a meaningless tautology. But as I said, I don't get it. And yes, I've considered the possibility that I just don't possess the necessary stuff, that I haven't the intellectual wherewithal to grasp these higher concepts. But I can read, and I find that under most circumstances, I understand what to read. I get electricity and internal combustion and music theory, and a lot of other things that are grounded in reality, but I can't shake the feeling that one day the world will wise up and collectively dismiss the fanciful notion that money means something. Then again, people do believe some pretty strange things.
Endlessly compelling though the subject may be, economics is not our focus today, not specifically anyway. What's got my bellows wheezing is the question of the relationship between the actions of leaders and governments and the overall condition of the country. I’m not talking about the immediate result of raising a tax or passing a law, but to what degree and how quickly the actions of an administration shape the overall gestalt.
Now, we know that candidates for public office all claim to have immediate solutions to all the problems facing their constituents, and they lay it all out during their campaigns. "All we gotta do," they say, "is shift a few things around, put this over here and that'n over there, orient the couch this away, tip the refrigerator over, build a couple cabinets and slap a coat of varnish over the whole thing, and all will be hunkus dorus.
With the fervor of a besotted suitor they promise that within moments of taking office, the country will enter upon an age of peace and prosperity such as has never been seen, and the entire population will be farting through silk. And the people, with their seemingly insatiable appetite and tolerance for bullshit, say: “That sounds reasonable." They put him in office and nothing changes, or things get worse, or change in unexpected ways. No surprise there; it's been happening that way since the dawn of campaigning and elections. The real puzzler is why so many people act as if their memory has been wiped clean every time campaign season rolls around, and instead of recognizing another opportunistic scalawag come to abuse the hospitality of the office and fritter away taxpayer dollars, they jump up and down excitedly and gush, "This is the one! Him! I know we were wrong all those jillion other times, but this one's different!"
I put it to you that these clowns — and for the sake of this discussion, we're talking specifically about presidents of these United States — do in fact have an effect, and that they exert real influence on the world, and implement real, quantifiable changes. It just doesn't happen with any kind of immediacy. A president's legacy lives in the future. The totality of a president's four or eight years must be slowly masticated and digested and peristaltically actuated through miles of bowel before being expelled through the country's bunghole, and with an entity the size and complexity of the USA, you can bet that takes a while.
A government does not have the acceleration and handling response of an Indy car. It doesn't even have the acceleration and handling response of a cruise ship. With respect to those abilities, I would place governments somewhere between a very old sloth and a glacier. They are capable of course corrections and forward movement. But you’ve got plenty of time to get out their way if need be. Consider, though, what a glacier leaves in its wake as it makes its slow, inexorable way across the landscape: new and exciting geographical features. The Grand Canyon, Pismo Beach, Carlsbad Caverns, the Eiffel Tower, and the Old Course at Saint Andrew's were all created by glaciers, and, like the mighty glacier, the presidential administration leaves in its own wake a number of improvements and/or detriments on the social and cultural landscape.
By way of example, I offer the following thesis: everything that is bad about America right now, and a good portion of the rest of the world, is directly attributable to Ronald Reagan. A bold statement, to be sure, and an invitation to controversy, but I stand by it. Do I have any data to support this claim? Not a shred, but that's okay. I know it in my gut and that's where it counts.
After the upheaval and catharsis of the 1960s, I feel like America was on the right path in the 70s as far as getting our collective shit together as a nation and a people as the policies and actions of Truman and Eisenhower finally gained a little traction in establishing the zeitgeist. Had Carter been granted a second term, the trend would have continued and by now we'd all be living in a comparative Eden.
But instead the radical shift resulted in today's climate of violent divisiveness and Internet shenanigans. Children have reached levels of wiseassery beyond imagining and being famous is an end unto itself, and I put that squarely on the shoulders of Public Enemy #39.
Name something you don't like about the current age and I will tell you who is responsible. Global terrorism and the rise of ISIS? Ronald Wilson Reagan. Mass shootings? Uh, Reagan. The scourge of meth? Here's a hint: starts with an R, ends with an N, got an "eaga" in the middle. Reality TV? Hold on, lemme check the files— yep, Reagan. AXE body spray, Honey Booboo, beheading videos, the knockout game, Tucker Max, for-profit education, the 1%, bath salts, Jeff Dunham, racial profiling and the TSA? Reagan Reagan Reagan! He and his team of bullying plutocrats mined this country and instead of having an airport named after him he should have been impeached, drawn, quartered, boiled, and imprisoned. What's done is done, though, and can't be undone, and aside from maybe levying some punitive measures against his heirs and assigns, there isn't much we can do about the current situation. We can, however, cast our eyes toward the future.
Many of you are, I know, equating the current brace of presidential candidates with a choice between a punch in the face and a kick in the groin. Uh, neither one sir, thanks all the same. I personally like Hillary Clinton, though I think her election would cause the Republicans in Congress to take their schismatic Jiggery-pokery to new levels, and I'm not even sure that my feelings about her are rooted in my confidence in her ability or are informed by my one-time crush. My ardor has since cooled, but when Bill was elected back in '92, I thought: now there’s a lady I can get behind. I do realize that she would, if elected, be swimming uphill the whole way.
And then there's Trump, of course. Bleh. 'Nuff said. So how does one choose between options considered equally distasteful? The answer is: who gives a damn? The effects of this administration won't be felt for another 20 or 30 years, so let the children worry about it.
That is why I posit the following: give five-year-olds the vote. I know, ha ha, very funny. Let the kids vote. Good one. But I'm completely serious. Kids have a built-in creep detector that loses its effectiveness around puberty once they start being able to be influenced by things like fashion and charisma and sex appeal. Like dogs, kids can see inside your soul, and once they experience that visceral negative reaction toward someone, no amount of candy or promises is going to change their mind. Besides, I say if a person can own a gun and be held accountable for shooting someone with it, they damn well should be able to vote.
Probably the most interesting and wonderful consequence of drastically lowering the voting age would be the tone and content of political advertising. Wouldn't you love to see an animated show where Hillary hits Donald over the head with a frying pan and his head takes the frying-pan shape? I know I would. How about the Donald saying, "My opponent, Hillary Clinton, is a doo-doo head. Not only that, but she's a liar and a fat mouth and a crybaby tattletale. She wants to give monsters the right to live under your bed! I’m not saying she's a witch, but she lives in a gingerbread house that kids don't come out of.
To which Hillary would respond: "My opponent talks about monsters and witches. Look at him! He's clearly a monster. Do you want that scary orange man coming over to your house and making you eat liver? Because that's just what he'll do. I'll be your third grandma and I will spoil the dickens out of each and every one of you."
I would like to remind you that in recent years, American voters in their majority have put into office dead people, dogs, cats, fictional characters, and Jesse Ventura, and that's just the absurdly surreal ones.
Never mind the vast parade of criminally incompetent bunglers voted in every year to fill every post from dogcatcher to President. Could children do any worse? Impossible. They will bring a fresh perspective to the process and provide the purifying agitation that our electoral process so desperately needs. Giving 18-year-olds the vote significantly changed the complexion of elections for the better; further expansion of the field will, ipso facto, improve things immeasurably. There's a chance that Spongebob may wind up as senate majority leader, but that's one I'm willing to take.