Suppose one day four years ago you ate too much chocolate and went into a coma. And suppose no one unplugged you in the ensuing four years. Then suppose you woke up and — shades of Rumepelstiltskin — it was like nothing ever happened.
What would you think when you found out that Donald Trump leads in race for president! Pope and Trump trade insults! Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders fighting for Democratic nomination!
Nah, you would say, I must still be in a coma. I must be dreaming.
But no, it really is true. This whole thing is so strange it seems almost like … almost like … well, almost like American politics.
Let me remind you about a few events in our history.
Take the election of 1848. The Whig Party (yes, that really was its name) was casting around for a presidential candidate and it decided on Zachary Taylor. Old Zach was a Mexican War hero who had pretty much spent his whole life out there fighting on the frontier, so hardly anyone knew anything about him. In fact, he apparently had never even voted before he ran for president. You would think this entire lack of political experience would raise questions, but Old Rough and Ready ended up winning by a wide margin.
It really wasn’t working out all that badly until he decided to celebrate July 4 by drinking a bunch of milk and eating a bunch of cherries. A couple days later, he dropped over dead and Millard Fillmore took his place.
Fillmore wasn’t a real popular fellow and the party refused to nominate him to return to office in 1852. But in 1856 he was the Know-Nothing Party candidate for president. The Know Nothings were an anti-immigrant group (sound familiar?) and also were anti-Catholic (don’t let the pope hear that!) Fillmore ended up getting more than 20 percent of the vote. As far as I can tell, he was not in favor of building a wall to keep Mexicans out since we had only recently incited and won a big war against Mexico, taking a big chunk of their country away from them in the process.
You might also consider Horace Greeley. He was a very successful newspaper publisher from New York who also was into things such as phrenology, spiritualism and a French utopian concept called Fourierism, a kind of socialist experiment that makes Bernie Sanders look conservative. Greeley also always wore a heavy overcoat, even in the summer, always carried an umbrella, and had the most bizarre looking neckbeard. So naturally, he got nominated for president.
Unfortunately, he not only lost the election but also lost control of his newspaper during the campaign. His wife died the week before the election and he suffered a nervous breakdown himself, dying less than a month after the election. Anyone who wants to run for president should know about poor Horace.
American history also is full of unusual characters who ran as third party candidates. There isn’t enough space here to go into that group.
I guess that what I’m trying to say is that while this year’s campaign so far reads like something from the Twilight Zone, we’ve been there before. It seems like there are a lot of angry people right now and they’re willing to support anything or anyone that is willing to stand up to the old way of doing things.
If there’s a lesson in this, it’s not that Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are such popular guys, it’s that they represent something different than the same old song and dance.
Plus, they’re a little bit entertaining, which is important to Americans these days. If you think about the losing candidates in this century, it’s a pretty boring group. Gore, Kerry, McCain, Romney — that’s a pretty big snooze factor. You’ll never nod off with Trump up on the stage. Throw in the pope and Bill Clinton and Supreme Court justices dropping dead and you have a political three ring circus out there.
I still don’t believe the Donald or Bernie will win the nomination, but you have to admit it sure would be an entertaining campaign. It’s just that what happens afterwards might not be much fun. Wake me up when it’s all over.
David Lindeman is a Troy resident and former editor at the Troy Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected]