The Shadow and the Tree


Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing” – Abraham Lincoln

The design was unremarkable. The message was simple.  If it had not been on the eve of the second presidential debate, the t-shirt would have probably gone unnoticed.

Our family had just finished touring the Abraham Lincoln museum in Springfield, Illinois (which is excellent). As with all good American attractions, we were instructed to “exit through the gift shop”. Front and center upon entering the gift shop was a circular display filled with black t-shirts of various sizes. They all bore the same inscription in simple white letters … “I miss Abe.”

“Ain’t that the truth,” I thought to myself, “what I wouldn’t give for a good Lincoln-Douglas debate right about now.” Of course that was not to be, and instead we had Hillary and Donald.

Arriving back at our hotel, I fired up the iPad and started to catch up on the events of the day. I’ve made it a habit to switch between Fox News and CNN for my news feeds. It’s interesting to observe how two different news organizations can spin the same story in such opposite directions. Many times they pick entirely different stories to cover without even a pretense of neutrality.

Following both news feeds is an attempt on my part to get a balanced perspective. I can’t tell that it’s working.

What was working, was that after spending ten minutes reading about the latest shenanigans from both candidates, I was thoroughly depressed.

I thought about character. I thought about principles. I thought about personal values. I thought about Abe.

I’m sure over the years we have romanticized Lincoln to some extent. But we have enough of his writings, speeches and notes, not to mention the recorded history from the newspapers of that time to have a pretty accurate picture of the man.

I thought about our current crop of candidates.

I thought about character some more.

Do we, as a nation, care about character anymore?

Hilary and Donald seem to be in a race to the bottom. It’s as if they were in some perverse video game where the goal is to collect the seven deadly sins as bonus tokens during their free fall. And then when they have arrived at the bottom, jump up in front of us and say, “Vote for Me.”

Are we so desperate to align ourselves with a candidate that mirrors a particular position we hold, that we are willing to accept anything?

Let’s bring it a little closer to home:

  • Suppose you’re on the board of a worthy non-profit organization and you discover that the treasurer is skimming money meant to help those in need. But the treasurer holds the same views as you do on immigration and health care, so you let it slide.
  • You find out that your city councilwoman is taking bribes to award city business. You’re upset by that, but their stance on gun control and gay marriage is the same as yours, so you let it go unreported.
  • You discover your pastor is having an affair with the church secretary. You’re not happy with that, but the pastor agrees with your position on abortion and foreign policy, so you accept his immorality.

Of course those examples are ridiculous, no moral person would look the other way on any of those scenarios … why then do we accept such a lack of character, morality and principles from our candidates for the highest offices of the land?

I’m not so naïve as to expect perfection from anyone, let alone politicians. Backroom deals, chicanery and tomfoolery (to be polite) have been a part of politics since the beginning. But traditionally they were kept in the backroom, they were kept secret. Why?, because the majority of Americans would not have tolerated those behaviors.

Why do we now accept those behaviors? We have witnessed things in this campaign that would have derailed candidates in previous election cycles. And now that we have accepted the lowest common denominator, where do we go from here?

I miss Abe!

Addendum –

“Okay Poppy,” you’re thinking right about now … “you’ve shot your mouth off, what do you suggest”?

I can’t tell you what to do, but I can tell you a few things that have helped me.

Take an inventory of your values-

I can place mine in three buckets. In the first group are issues that I have some opinion about, but are of little importance to me. The second group contain issues that are important to me and all other things being equal, will be a deciding factor. The third group holds values that are to me, inviolate. I would never vote for a candidate who does not uphold that value.

Your values will vary, for me there is only one issue in that third bucket because I believe it to be literally a matter of life and death.

Understand your rights-

As an American citizen you have the right to vote.

As an American citizen you have the right to not vote.

If voting for either candidate for a particular office violates your conscience, then don’t do it. Don’t be guilted into voting for someone you don’t approve of or fall prey to the faulty logic of … “If you don’t vote for him, it’s a vote for her or if you don’t vote her it’s a vote for him.” It cuts both ways.

Demand better-

We don’t have to go back all the way to Lincoln to find principled candidates. It was not so long ago, that I could have pointed to the Republican and Democratic candidates for president and while I might have preferred one over the other, I believe both were of good character.

We all know principled men and women of good character. They exist! Demand more of everyone running for office on every level from dog-catcher to the POTUS. Don’t settle for click-bait. Get involved!

See you in four years!