On Election Eve 2016, I join many Americans who share not hopeful anticipation of our new leader, but a leaden dread of who's next to prop their feet on the historic desk of the Oval Office. Author and theologian Eugene Peterson seems to sum up the collective heaviness we feel when he writes that, "There is little to admire and less to imitate in the people who are prominent in our culture...People, aimless and bored, amuse themselves with trivia and trash. No other culture has been as eager to reward either nonsense or wickedness." Why do I feel that we will surely be rewarding either or both when we vote tomorrow?
Donald Trump crows that with him we will "Make America Great Again," and parts of that sentiment are attractive, but we question how "great" is defined in his phrase. Tall walls, better (best!) trade deals, more and better jobs will leave us far short of true greatness. America's greatness has receded, but we know that for her to recover, we need a leader with integrity, compassion and vision who fully embraces the cultural richness of our unmatched nation.
Hillary Clinton wails that she will represent all Americans; she is a "change-maker" who will fight for families, and who can deny being drawn to such promises? Yet, Hillary seems to be the epitome of stasis, not change, cemented for decades in the politics of personal benefit with a moral compass too easily attracted to the latest magnetic cultural shift. Her presidency will likely add to the Clinton political legacy and bounty, but will do little to shake us from complacency to a new place of excellence.
Perhaps we need to turn from the two foremost candidates and back to the "historic desk" in the Oval Office to find a solid emblem of promise for America's future. The desk, first brought into the Oval Office by JFK in '61, is the "Resolute Desk," a gift from Queen Victoria to Rutherford B. Hayes. Its solidity and name alone inspire support that our candidates do not. Hewn from the remains of a British Arctic exploration vessel with "especially strong timbers" whose name means, "Set in purpose or opinion, characterized by firmness and determination," she stands in stark opposition to our current presidential choices. The fact that the ship was an Arctic explorer serves as a reminder of the need for new and dramatic national 'explorations' into the power of science, technology and education. The desk's traditional design may hearken us to the importance of faith and family in our new America, and the stability that comes with a nation "under God" that promotes the freedom that belief can bring.
There is something lovely about the thought that the British ship was trapped in the ice and abandoned, then later discovered by Americans, restored and finally returned as a gift. How wonderful it would be if the next president could see the ship's leitmotif and move beyond the frozen inertia of our political climate and "restore" the groundbreaking, even daring position we once held in the world.
The desk also features "Representations of the four Quarters of the Globe on four inner angles of Top Frame and Handles representative of Friendship, Male & Female, on the drawers." May our new president invite the "globe" into the discussion of America's role in our "flat" world. May we once again operate in friendship, and seek to be a balm to the truly needy and pursue justice for all.
Chroniclers tell us that when the Resolute was discovered, locked in its icy Arctic tomb, they found a British flag draped over the chair of the captain's desk. They wrote that the flag had been thrown over the chair "as if to protect this seat from vulgar occupation." In my mind's eye, I see Old Glory draped over the chair that now sits in front of the Oval Office's Resolute Desk, daring the new president to remove it. May the person who does so take some of the admirable qualities of the fine old desk into his or her new occupation.