Last night on the way to Brendan’s wrestling banquet, Bren, Gabe, and I were discussing the presidency.
“Did you know,” said Gabe, “that calling the president ‘Mr. President’ isn’t something you have to do? It’s just what George Washington asked to be called, and now everyone else does it, but it’s not a rule or a law.* So a president could ask to be called whatever he wanted. Wouldn’t it be funny if the president said he wanted to be called King?”
“Did you know,” I said, “that people supposedly wanted George Washington to be king after the Revolution, but he refused? The story is that he didn’t want to win independence from one king just to install another.”
Also on my commutes, especially in the evenings, I’m listening to an audiobook version of The City of God by St. Augustine. It’s a wonderful recording, not least of all because the reader is an older British man with a wise, witty, and kindly voice, who occasionally runs out of wind on Augustine’s longer rants, adding a touch of saintly exasperation to the reading.
The language and writing style are poetic and complex, but the book, thus far, is full of insight and contemporary relevance. For instance, after describing the folly and decline of Rome from many different angles, citing as evidence the descent of morality and the rise of materialism, celebrity, and indecent entertainment, St. Augustine ties the fall of the empire specifically to the fall of liberty and the rise of domination as the fundamental value of Rome.
This makes sense to me, then and now. Liberty recognizes the value of the individual; it can be defended, or in peaceful times, it can be content to live and let live. Domination, on the other hand, is aggressive and discontented by nature; it consolidates power and values the state. Augustine asks if a person might be considered more blessed who had modest wealth, sufficient resources for survival, and peace, compared to one who has untold riches and power and constant fear of war, assassination, or overthrow. So, too, a superpower? At what point did we aspire to be the greatest nation on earth, and what has that cost us?
Whoever heads the nation will have a chance to be the greatest man in the world for a short time — and the nation can hold the sack once the excitement is over. For the next ten years we need a man without ambition, a man who hates war and knows that no good ever comes of it, and a man who has proved his beliefs by adhering to them. All candidates will need to be measured against these requirements.
*According to Wikipedia, our first president was originally addressed as, “His High Mightiness, the President of the United States and Protector of their Liberties,” but critics thought it “smacked of monarchy.”