I voted at 19 for the first time in 1971. It was very exciting since I was a beneficiary of the then recently ratified 26th Amendment, which gave 18-year-olds the right to vote. I remember voting for underdog Scott Newhall for mayor of San Francisco. He lost badly.
In 1972 I supported Sen. George McGovern of South Dakota for the presidency. He was an early critic of the Vietnam War and to my younger readers, the Bernie Sanders of his day. Sen. McGovern was an idealist and had the support of many young people.
I remember shaking the hand of his vice-presidential candidate, Sargent Shiver, as he walked down Montgomery Street in San Francisco’s Financial District. I was very disappointed that President Nixon soundly defeated McGovern. Since then I have voted in every presidential election.
I, like many Americans, am disturbed the tone and tenor of this year’s presidential campaign. I am sure to the rest of the world American politics is very much dysfunctional. The recent accusation by Donald Trump that the system is “rigged” is not a good sign.
I recently heard a statistic that about seven percent of people on Facebook have unfriended each other because of their support of either candidate. Why are we losing the idea of the “loyal opposition” and why has this campaign so polarized the electorate to the point that some people are talking about not accepting the results no matter who the winner is?
The greatest danger to our republic is not wither Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton is our next president but that people have lost faith in our two-party system. Our system of government has been most effective if we are willing to work together and compromise over major issues. Our Constitution would not have been written without compromise over issues such as representation and slavery.
Will we continue to see gridlock in Washington, while important issues like income disparity, immigration reform, terrorism, college debt, global warming, and race relations remain unaddressed? That is part of the frustration that American voters are having with “career politicians” and “Washington insiders.”
In general I am a “glass half-full” guy versus a “glass half-empty” guy. As a high school history and government teacher, I have felt that Americans have a shared common belief in popular sovereignty. Remember that the first three words of the preamble to the Constitution are “We the people…”.
We have had moments in our history where elections have been as hotly contested as the current one and yet we have survived as a nation. I do have faith that American will elect candidates that will find solutions to our problems.
An example is the election of 1800. It was an ugly one. The supporters of incumbent John Adams (Federalist Party) and candidate Thomas Jefferson (Democratic Republican Party) went after each other in the partisan press of the day. The Federalists spread the rumor that Jefferson had a love child with one of his slaves. (This, we would find out later, was true.) Because of the Alien and Sedition Acts, Adams was portrayed as a threat to civil liberties. Jefferson and Adams had been good friends and were now bitter political enemies.
Jefferson would not win the election outright, as he tied with fellow Democratic Republican and vice-presidential candidate Aaron Burr with an equal number of electoral votes. In that election there was a separate ballot for the vice president as the founders did not take into account the creation of political parties. That oversight would later be remedied with the passage of the 12th Amendment.
The election was thrown into the House of Representatives. Burr saw his opportunity to be the next president. Alexander Hamilton was leader of the Federalist Party. He too was a political enemy of Jefferson. He, however, did the right thing and instructed the Federalist members of Congress to support Jefferson. As you may have seen in the musical “Hamilton,” that would result in a duel and his death at the hands of Aaron Burr.
The election of 1800 is important because it marked the first time that the presidency was passed to another political party. It was a peaceful transition of power.
Another example of a peaceful transition of power was the resignation of President Richard Nixon due to the Watergate scandal and Vice President Gerald Ford assuming the office of the presidency without any violence in the streets. One must remember that America was a deeply divided nation in 1974.
As a postscript, Jefferson and Adams would rekindle their friendship after Jefferson left office. The two men would correspond in their retired years. One of history’s great coincidences is that both men died on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
So whomever you are supporting for president, remember to vote on Nov. 30 — correction, Nov. 8 — and as they used to say in Chicago, “Vote early and vote often!”
Bill Yee is a retired Alhambra High School history teacher. He can be reached at [email protected] Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.