I know this may surprise many of you, but Presidents’ Day* isn’t really about getting the best deal on a new Ford or checking out the white sale at JCPenny.
It’s about acknowledging the hard work that it takes to be President, and it’s about respecting those who have taken on this enormous challenge. Sadly, few seem to see it that way anymore….
In a lifetime of Presidents—which for me ranges from Eisenhower to Obama—I’ve rarely seen less respect both for the office and for the individual holding that office. It all started, I believe, with Nixon, whose actions felled the last of Camelot’s walls. In Chasing Glenn Beck I wrote that I remembered
… exactly where I was the moment Nixon resigned in the same way that people know where they were when Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon, when the Challenger exploded, or when the planes hit the Twin Towers.
On the evening of August 8, 1974 I stood outside the main lodge of Camp JCA in the Malibu mountains where 150 kids ranging in age from six to thirteen spent two dry-as-a-bone weeks singing songs, creating crafts, hiking trails, and riding horses.
It was just after dinner and everyone stood around outside the camp’s dining hall waiting for Nixon’s speech to emerge from the camp’s loudspeakers. When he finally issued those historic words,
[d]eafening cheers broke out. Those who could, erupted into two-fingered whistles; most just clapped, stamped their feet, or shouted their hurrahs. Without exception—right down to the six-year-olds in the youngest cabin, the six-year-olds who still occasionally wet their beds, who sometimes cried from homesickness, who ran frightened from yellow-jackets—every single person was ecstatic at the downfall of the president.
Today’s level of Presidential disrespect has undoubtedly reached an all-time high; never before have I seen race, religion, and class come together in a storm so perfect: a large section of our country now claims that Barack Obama is not “their” president, as if, somehow, disagreement and disapproval grants one the right of personal secession.
But lest we think that such levels of disrespect are sudden and anomalous, let’s recall the ways in which the recent Bush suffered similar excoriation with near-similar vehemence. And, before that, the tribulations of President Clinton (Slick Willy, echoing the Tricky Dick appellation from an earlier decade), the first Bush, and even Ronald Reagan, whose rewritten mythos conveniently ignores the fact that the Great Communicator was commonly lampooned as tired, old, and brain-muddled.
But to truly see how far we’ve fallen since Nixon, one need only view this video from last September in which a six-year-old child gives his reasons for opposing President Obama:
Pastor Will Davis, Jr. of the Austin Christian Fellowship responded to the video with a post that accurately describes my point. “The little boy was obviously coached and the whole video was obviously the work of the kid’s parents,” he writes. “Honestly, it disgusted me,” then adding that:
Political alignment has never been a requirement for showing respect. The President is the elected leader of our country and we (especially our children) need to show him the respect he is due whether we agree with him politically or not. To coach a child to openly bash the President isn’t just bad manners, it breeds kids with a basic disrespect for authority and sends the message that respecting authority is dependent upon how one feels about the authority’s political views.
And, I would add, it says quite a bit about us, as adults, too.
While growing up, I often heard it said that respect is something that needs to be earned. The premise on which this old chestnut sits is one I did not accept then and do not accept now. Every day we make choices, and one of the choices we make is whether to lead from the heart or not. Leading from the heart means that we accept people and assume the best in them rather than the worst. And that means we must begin from a place of respect and not force others to jump through our undefined hoops in the hope that they will earn it.
Respect is something you choose to give. It is not based on achievement. It is not based on personality. Respect is given because you value people. Inherently.
A position may be earned. A title. Leadership. However, respect is something that we choose to give.
We can give it if we choose. We can still disagree—and respectfully air those disagreements—but that’s not the same thing.
On Presidents’ Day and every day: the man who holds the office has the hardest job in the world. You may not like the man or his policies, you may even actively work to see those policies overturned. All that is fine; all that is part of our democracy. But respect the office and respect the man who holds it.
*Nit-pickers’ alert: Technically, it’s not really Presidents’ Day. It’s still officially Washington’s Birthday (as noted in this snopes.com article). However, this seems to be one of those cases where conventional behavior supersedes arcane legislation that nobody remembers—if they ever knew about it at all.
Art credit: Steve Penley