During World War II, there were the “Big Three” meetings of the U.S. (represented by President Franklin D. Roosevelt), England (represented by Winston Churchill) and Russia (represented by Joseph Stalin). The “Big Three” met periodically to iron out problems in fighting the war in Europe mostly against Nazi Germany, including in July 1945 in Potsdam, Germany, to discuss the future of Europe, as well as issues with the ongoing war in the Pacific.
From all accounts, these three unique personalities got along reasonably well, posed a lot for photographs and had time to unwind. Historical records indicated Churchill began to complain about the upcoming British elections just prior to the Potsdam Convention. There was a strong possibility he could lose, he said. Stalin took this as good-natured kidding — those Brits and their droll sense of humor. How could one of the most powerful men in history lose an election at the finish line? Well, he did, and Clement Atlee won and came to the Potsdam meeting to represent England. Allegedly, Stalin was shocked. Churchill was later re-elected as Prime Minister and became the historical icon he is today.
But that story illustrates why Democracy and totalitarianism are so different. Churchill did not take Stalin aside and ask for Soviet aid in defeating Mr. Atlee. He did not go to our Nationalist Chinese allies in fighting the Japanese in the Pacific and ask for their assistance. That would no longer be a real democracy.
Over two centuries ago our founding fathers had this experience from longstanding European wars and the use of intrigue and alliances with neighboring countries to buttress the claim to the throne of the ruling family. They unilaterally saw the corrosive aspects of this failing in human nature. Their decision to draft our Constitution the way it is now — with a triad of power shared between the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches — was framed to prevent this in the new nation. And while it is awkward at times, hurts egos and can be disruptive, it works.
This is not rocket science. You have to be a bit of a historian, but once you get the picture it’s pretty simple. Churchill once shared in a House of Commons speech the quote, “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried.” I’m sure his first electoral loss was not well received.
We really don’t need Constitutional scholars to tell us all of the particulars. We’ve had leaders, orators, inspirers, “roll up your sleeve” types, womanizers, scoundrels and, most recently, an unbridled narcissistic egomaniac among our 45 elected presidents.
All have had unique personalities. Certainly, our history has amply demonstrated that we often elect the wrong person. It happens. Honestly, in some cases with our polarized and hyperpartisan process, it’s the lesser of two evils. The value of our constitutional system is to correct these regrettable — but entirely predictable scenarios — our founders foresaw before the damage is too severe. There were some slick and deceptive individuals in Colonial times. This human quality is often on display in the Old Testament — going back 7,000 years.
To keep scholars happy, we need “presidential historians” to keep records of all this stuff and to rank presidents, just like ESPN does for quarterbacks — all fine and good.
I believe all presidents work hard and value their role in history, at least as how they see it. Each has their own internal guidance system, I suppose. The rest of us have a lot of data sifting to do, wade through a lot of conflicting and obtuse campaign ads, and stand in lines — or in Maryland mail in our ballots — to do our constitutional duty.
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Dave Pyatt writes from Mount Airy. He can be contacted at DPyatt2@verizon.net.