Today, we celebrate Presidents. George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, in particular. What they stand for, and who succeeds them in both the leading and the led, in general.
If you've never heard the story of how the word president came to mean what it has as leader of this republic, TED-talking etymological alchemist Mark Forsyth has this take. Imagine, a House of Representatives and a Senate sharply divided over what the title of the Commander In Chief should be! And that the House should settle, after weeks of mind-numbingly tedious contention, on a word whose usage suggested one who serves as a kind of "foreman" or presider over meetings or groups.
The Senate, of course, felt the word president would insult both the individual and the nation he (or she) led, and refused--up to this very moment--to endorse the term.
The nation has had 44 Presidents, and the one who gave us what we all fondly know as the "campaign" process of going out to the people to seek votes, leading to the election of the next president was Andrew Jackson in 1828, the first President elected who was neither a Founding Father or the son of a Founding Father.
You may remember that "mudslinging" as a term from your grade school history books, and indeed, on the way to getting elected in 1828, Jackson slung mud at his nemesis John Quincy Adams, accusing him of using public funds, during his presidency, to buy "gambling devices" for the presidential residence; it turned out that these were a chess set and a pool table.
So, Jackson--who had to beat an Adams, Henry Clay, and the notion that all U.S. presidents for all time would be either from Virginia or Massachusetts--started kissing babies, holding picnics, and talking to the populace to prove to them and to the electoral voters that he was more than the "military chieftain" the Adams camp had labeled him to be.
After a two-week election process, Jackson won in a landslide. Incumbent President John Quincy Adams literally had to flee a mob out the back door of the White House.
Which is to say what need not be said. Our freedoms as a nation do not come without a cost, and they're mighty unsightly at times.
A President, the House intended, was to be the humblest of titles, the bearer of which would be an ultra-competent presider over this great "meeting" that is the the free democratic republic of the United States.
As for Washington and Lincoln, their names grace more towns--or what the Census Bureau defines as minor civil divisions and counties--than any other Presidents (although Jackson is a close No. 3 to Lincoln). A non-president Benjamin Franklin has his name in even more places--counties and MCDs) than Lincoln.
Which means exactly what to you, today, in this context, dear audience? You don't consult BUILDER Pulse normally for history lessons.
What I think, though, are two things that may be pertinent. One is the rather humble origins of that term president. We have that term in corporate hierarchies, as we have it in politics, academia, and other types of cultures and organizations. It's telling, I think, that a term many of us associate with leadership, valor, and vision in all its colors and stripes should have been coined initially from what may have been nothing so much as an individual's competence at getting one person to speak at a time during a meeting.
To get a group of people to act as one is frequently the challenge of a president, despite the mudslinging, the sharp differences in background, self-reference, social pedigree, roots, etc., the fear of the consequences, accountability, and next series of challenge. Polarization, in so many instances and cases, seems to be our comfort zone, our default mode, our reflexive motion.
So, today, let's remember not just the 44 Presidents who've been willing to step up and at least try to do the job of presiding over this great meeting we call the United States. Let's also remember presidents of divisions, of regions, of small companies and large, who are part of the ecosystem of players who're trying to make places, like Washington, or Lincoln, or Jackson, or Jefferson, or Cleveland, or Tyler better places with better homes.
And one more thought, this one directly from New York Times columnist David Brooks.
People are motivated to make wise choices more by hope and opportunity than by fear, cynicism, hatred and despair. Unlike many current candidates, [you name the President] has not appealed to those passions.