A Contrast of Endings: Downton Abbey and the Presidential Primaries

The finale of "Downton Abbey", the bonanza of a television series for many of us all over the world, was so striking in its point of view. It was sad and glad and sentimental and left some of us, myself included, in tears at various points. Not all are fans by any means, but I'm talking about a large portion of the population that can relate to the characters, their strife and dilemmas, and their tragedies and the richness of their joys.

I didn't know what it would be like to see this beloved series end, but what seemed the angle of Julian Fellowes, its fiercely talented creator, was that it was the audience that left Downton, and not vice versa. Not only did we say goodbye to them; rather we did so as they were in the midst of various phases of moving on. The distinguishing note, though, was that theirs was a community that was functioning. Yes, it functioned within the limits of the time and the culture and even the inequities, but there were ways in which the characters resolved conflict and progress--learning more and knowing more--got to meld with tradition.

The American political scene at the moment has struck many as quite juvenile. The name calling in the Republican primaries has been debasing and spiteful, insult being the key tool. What's more, we see a house, i.e. a country so divided and we see many people all over this land apparently excited about the divide without any hint of a desire for compromise.

In Downton Abbey, the program and the village, we are reminded that all of the characters have their saving graces; well that is almost all of them. People who are the biggest curmudgeons (who can resist loving Maggie Smith, the most brilliant curmudgeon in my memory, at least) become heroic in their capacity and willingness to save the day for other people. People, we are helped to see, stop in their tracks when love and connection are important enough, and they retrace the steps on their own prior stubbornness or prejudices. We are part of life's contradictions as we see people made of good and bad, generosity and the utter lack thereof.

Downton is a place we can take leave of with the feeling that "they", the cast we have grown to see as real, will be all right. We may be grieving but they are continuing onward. The question is will we as Americans be all right when our series, the series of debates and the Presidential Elections, are over? When this part of the show is over, and the next part is supposed to begin, when we are supposed to function together, how will that look?

I had a crush on John Kennedy as a teenager but was too young to vote. I know well enough that "dirty tricks" are neither new nor limited to one party or person, but it does seem in the last number of years that whoever is elected is faced with an opposition that is nothing short of loathing and the design to kill potential change.

We know the drill, that Obama faced this kind of opposition, while now there are many gloating over his lack of backbone and decisiveness. There are people who blame everything in the economy on him while they vowed from the beginning never to meet him in the middle of anything. One issue that seems especially striking has to do with the motivation that comes from vengeance and spite, the demeaning--to the point of dehumanizing--of the other guy for the sake of feeling good about us.

There is another thing here. We are so caught up in the show, and it is a real show that the press exhibits to us in every detail and at all hours, that there is almost no focus on how the show will end. What will be the aftermath of an election already doomed to be particularly ugly, when in a country that claims to unite rather than divide, there is not much unifying energy and motivation to be seen.

Perhaps Julian Fellowes would write a happier version of our political scene at the moment. Perhaps he is taking a rest from theatrical duties, though I doubt it. In any case, in an atmosphere where hate and fear sell so well, we might not even tune in to a vision that could incorporate the unabashed vulnerability of an apology, and the desire to give peace a chance.

Downton Abbey, the show, had a rare element also in showing us the tensions between progress and tradition, and the pulls of both. We here are instead becoming more and more yearning of a past that is being romanticized to ridiculous proportions.

Fairytales are enchanting and useful when they provoke in us the capacities to cope, to mature, to deal. The idea of the cowboy always winning against the Indian is not particularly helpful to us in facing the complexities of cruelty and the need for repair. We never in America get to see that the only "native" Americans that didn't come here as immigrants, are in fact the Native Americans.

We haven't yet organized any group devoted to the study of how to cope with reality and the complications inherent in it. And it does seem time. There are all kinds of think tanks available and some people are actually still thinking, to the extent of wanting to surround themselves with those who either disagree or forcefully challenge assumptions.

I personally am a hopeless fan of my own country, even as it frustrates the hell out of me. So I'd love to see the functioning of the country as a whole, become more of a value. That would mean seeing the good and bad in all of us, and stopping the addiction to divisiveness. It can't be done with a simple slogan but it is certainly worth pursuing.