The Eighth Most Important Election of All Time!
I’ve heard many pundits, politicians, and just regular people declare that this presidential election is The Most Important Election... Ever! The implication is, you better vote for so and so or you could be contributing to the terrible pivotal moment in all of human history.
Is this really the most important election in history?
I think back to the election between Lincoln, Breckinridge, Bell, and Douglas. Lincoln’s victory triggered the American Civil War: the most destructive war in American history to this day. One would think that people might say that election was The Most Important Election… ever!
Or how about Lincoln’s second presidential election, which determined if the United States would stay Lincoln’s destructive course or end the Civil War (and the nation’s march towards the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments) under McClellan. Think about it: the United States was in a civil war and still had an election. During the war, the president suspended many Constitutional rights, but he still held the election. That’s pretty significant and thus maybe qualifies it as the most important election in history.
What about the election of 1796, when President Adams defeated Jefferson? This was probably the most important election in history because it demonstrated a modern republic could engage in a peaceful transition of administrations.
But then, maybe the 1972 election was the most important because it gave the world President Nixon, who not only reorganized the Federal government, he unfettered the US dollar from gold. This cannot be over-stated. Initially, it triggered economic calamity, but as the world adjusted, it led to an unprecedented expansion of credit and (at least until now) economic growth. This is an experiment we are still living through. Time will tell if his election was the most important in history.
But wait. Maybe the election of Adolf Hitler as the German chancellor was the most important election of history. He wanted to create the Third Reich, in memory of the First Reich, the Holy Roman Empire, which was neither holy, nor Roman.
Since I’ve brought up the Roman Empire, maybe the most important election in history was Julius Caesar, elected as tribune. This gave Caesar access to an army, and after exterminating hundreds of thousands while expanding Rome’s power, he eventually crossed the Rubicon, forever changing Western society in ways we, two millennia later, are still recovering from.
Or perhaps the election of Genghis as Khan (great king of all the Mongol tribes) was most important of all time. From the various Mongol tribes, Genghis created the world's most powerful army and, while fashioning the greatest land empire in history, killed up to a fifth of the entire global human population. He raped so many women, something like a sixteenth of all Asians have Genghis’ DNA in them. That seems like the most important election of all time.
Importance isn’t defined by elections but by what happens after, and if a people will blithely go along with the madness of a leader, or not.
The Constitution of the United States protects against punditry by ensuring no demagogue can actually take over the entire government in a single election. Since it takes six years and three election cycles to replace the Senate and no demagogue can fool the electorate for six years and three elections in a row, every presidential election is by definition a modest change in power.
But forget reason! American elections are full of hyperbole, and in this post-modern era, the hyperbole of political discourse has reached new heights.
President Clinton gave us the classic post-modern statement, “it depends on what the meaning of is is.” Today, the United States faces a populist candidate against an establishment candidate; one qualified and one not so much. But, few believe what one candidate says, while fewer still can believe what the other says because that candidate's statements change with the wind.
Post-modern presidential campaigns are thus defined by hyperbole, but just like post-modernism in general, hyperbole cannot define anything. We live in a world where a Nobel Peace Prize winner orders deaths by drone every week in multiple nations, while most don’t bat an eye. That fact alone has illustrated the post-modern presidency is post-modernity at its finest. Until the next election, of course, because the two present post-modern candidates trump all the others.
Is this the most important election of all time in all history and of all lands? Of course, because the United States is the most powerful global empire in known human history, and this election is the next election and who knows what’ll happen next. But then, maybe it’ll be the least important election in history because it all depends on what happens next. And that, my friends, is not hyperbole.
Whoever wins this presidential election I hope embodies the conclusion of Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address, because at this point in its young history, the United States needs someone to accomplish precisely this:
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.