The Day After
By Pat Neal
“The whole country is going to hell in a bucket now that we’ve elected those idiots.” My fancy friend shrieked the day after the election.
“Which idiot is that?” I asked, pretending to care. There’s nothing like talking politics to ruin a perfectly beautiful fall day spent floating down the river catching salmon. When you’re hooked up to a big king salmon you generally don’t care who the president is. Once the fishing gets slow people get bored and start bad-mouthing politicians no matter who they are.
America is a nation of laws. I don’t make the rules but I try to follow them. Similarly, there are rules at the fish camp that allow a free discourse of opposing ideas about the cuisine, the weather, and the estimated weight of a fish, while preserving a civilized decorum of relaxation and good taste.
I like to celebrate a diversity of opinion as much as the next guy. We have even let a fly fisherman into the fish camp in the interest of burying the hatchet on the row vs. wade controversy. Fly fishermen typically wade the river. I row a boat down the river. Can’t we all get along?
The first rule in any fish camp is, no arguments before breakfast. Chances are if you wait until after breakfast, you’ll forget what you were arguing about. Rule number two, no bear meat in the chili contest. That should be self-explanatory.
The final and most important rule in any fish camp is, no politics. Start talking politics and you are gone. Politics has always been a nasty business. Aristophanes said it best when he summed up what constitutes a popular politician, “a horrible voice, bad breeding and a vulgar manner.”
Since then, the abuse of politicians has become the great American pastime, where we conveniently forget we voted them into office against our own self-interest in the first place and keep them enthroned until they are rich and old.
But if you think we bad-mouth politicians now, it’s nothing compared to the good old days. George Washington was the father of our country but he had an enemy list as long as your arm. Fortunately, these events occurred in a period of our history when journalists had a command of the English language.
James Thomson Callender, a reporter for The Richmond Recorder, called President Washington, “the grand lama of the federal adoration, in immaculate divinity of Mount Vernon.” Callender described our second president John Adams, as a “hideous hermaphroditical character which has neither the force nor firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.” He accused Adams of wanting to crown himself king and said “it would have been best to have President Jefferson beheaded five minutes before his inaugural address.”
Journalism has always been a risky business. Destitute and drunk, Callender was found drowned in three feet of water in the James river in Virginia.
Not much has changed since the time of our founding fathers. We are still using the Electoral College to elect our president. Journalists still use eye catching headlines to increase sales. And if we have to exaggerate and speculate to educate so much the better. In this age of misinformation, all news is suspect. Journalists have to face the facts these days that nobody will believe what we write anyway. Still, at the end of the day, Americans can be proud that we elected the best politicians money can buy.
In these uncertain times, only one thing is certain. Have some faith, the country will change but it will survive.