In the 1972 presidential election, Richard M. Nixon, the incumbent president, won more than 60 percent of the popular vote and carried 49 states, including his opponent’s home state of South Dakota. It’s nearly inconceivable today that someone could win 520 Electoral College votes, but that’s exactly what Nixon did in defeating George McGovern. Of course, the seeds of his demise had been planted at the Watergate Hotel earlier that year with the arrest of the “Plumbers,” and Nixon resigned from office on August 9, 1974.
I bring this up, because I voted yesterday, the first day the polls opened in my county in California. I had already marked the forms and sealed them in the official envelope. I went to the voting center anyway, because I am used to the ritual of voting. I like it. I trust it. Mailing an envelope doesn’t cut it for me, unless, of course, I get to play with the metal door on the mailbox.
Now more than ever.
When I got there, four people stood in line, one complaining about the delay in letting people inside to vote. The guy monitoring the door explained that, although there were twelve booths available, they had to be scrubbed down and “vaporized.” I’m not sure what that meant, but when he asked if I wanted to be vaporized, I told him no, thank you, I was good. I quickly added that I liked his American flag shirt, which he appreciated, although not enough to move me to the front of the line.
I’m the kind of guy who reads through the election guide over several days. I take notes, highlight sections, and write snide comments about the candidates and their positions. As you might imagine, this can get involved. For example, “Measure S” about renewing a parcel tax from the water district took up 13 pages. It even had a map. Nice, that. So, while waiting in line I took out the guide and reviewed my notes, including a definition of ad valorem, which means basically that you’re going to get taxed at market rates, so hold onto your hat. I liked the Latin, though. Another classy touch.
One position statement caught my eye. I had underlined, circled, and highlighted it earlier, adding “I am not a crook” in the margin, which Nixon had declared at a press conference in November 1973 in–of all places–Disney World. Vice President Spiro Agnew had resigned a month earlier over corruption charges from his time as governor of Maryland. You can now add nolo contendere to the Latin phrase list.
The statement came from someone running for a governing board seat at a community college. The candidate was running because, “now more than ever our community and our future deserve a champion committed to ensuring our community colleges are strong and inclusive to create a better tomorrow for all.”
No doubt, this candidate is sincere in proclaiming herself a champion. But immediately I thought of Nixon’s 1972 campaign slogan, which heralded the president as a champion that we needed “now more than ever.” The actual slogan was “President Nixon. Now more than ever” (see Now More Than Ever). The pollster hired by Bob Haldeman, Nixon’s chief of staff, lauded the tagline for its “emotional appeal” and because it “looked good on a bumper sticker.” This turned out to be prophetic, since we spent most of 1973-74 staring at bumpers in line at the gas station.
In addition to Nixon’s campaign slogan, this election cycle seems to be reprising other slogans like “silent majority,” “law & order,” and “outside agitators.” To be sure, we’ve added new ones like “change agents,” “domestic terrorism,” and “antifa,” which whip up expectations of civil war, but I don’t think that’s such a great trade-off.
What disturbs me is the Orwellian ignorance of history on the part of those who want to tear down everything from statues to amendments–the iconoclasts. This is evident not only in their threadbare language but in the chilling arrogance with which they rewrite history, culture, and reality in an attempt to arrive not at truth but–let’s be frank–power. We are at risk of losing our identity as Americans. “Well, just rewrite the Constitution,” a native of India suggested to me. I nearly fell on the floor.
Meanwhile, as language becomes primitive, formulaic, and doctrinaire, so does our thinking. Bumper stickers and brochures prevail. Marketing and algorithms win the day. But what we need now more than ever is to end “now more than ever.”
That’s why I voted for another champion.
Image credits: feature by Global Currency Reset; memo from Ford Library. Historical source: Alex Caton, “Now, More Than Ever, ‘Now More Than Ever’ Needs To Go,” The Washington Post (March 15, 2017). Electoral College prediction: Trump 309, Biden 229. Remember all our saints on All Saints Day.