Once upon a time, there was a cartoon superhero who worked to advance truth, justice and the American Way.
That’s not a bad thing to work for, although it’s a little chauvinistic. At the risk of raising the ire of the super-patriots among us, I would hope that a real superman would have a more global attitude instead of confining use of his superpowers to just one country’s ideals. If he happened to be flying over, say, Dublin, and detected an injustice in progress, he should probably aim for the Irish Way, for example. It might not be exactly like the American Way, but the Irish probably like it (especially since the ones who didn’t like it probably emigrated to Boston over a century ago), and even a lot of them went back to Ireland after they made some money.
Anyway, I gave up reading about Superman when I discovered history, which is a lot more interesting because it’s about the real people who wrestled and are still wrestling with the concept of justice, arguing about what the truth is and arguing over what is meant by the American Way. Despite their efforts, though, our difficulty in finding the truth will always be a struggle. Justice will never be perfectly applied, and the exact meaning of the American Way will always be debated. It will be that way precisely because the definitions of those concepts are in the hands of real people. At no time in history has anyone ever come flying in from who knows where to dispense truth and justice while wearing a cape and what appears to be blue long underwear.
Being human beings, though, we continue to look for a superhero to make things right — albeit not one wearing a cape and flying magically through the air. Consider our quadrennial search for a new president, when every candidate is extolled by one faction or another as the right man for the job.
This past election, thousands of voters placed their hopes on Sen. Bernie Sanders as the man who could restore the American Dream; the father of Sen. Ted Cruz, meanwhile, told us that the only way to save America was to place his son in the White House. Neither of those candidates made the finals though, so in the end, our choice was between the candidate who claimed he was the only one who can keep us safe over the candidate who campaigned as the only candidate with the political experience to make government work for all Americans.
In November, voters elected the candidate who made many promises that he said would make America great again. The reality, though, is that he cannot keep many of those promises.
Take, for example, his promised repeal of so-called Obamacare and its replacement with a “fantastic” health care plan. Such a plan, he said, will retain the popular features of Obamacare and cover everyone, but it will have both lower premiums and lower deductibles. Such a plan is, of course, impossible, even if it were within the president’s powers to install one. But it isn’t; both repeal and replacement are in the hands of Congress.
Meanwhile, Congress is discovering that voters have suddenly realized Obamacare is the very same Affordable Care Act they are now depending on to provide them with health insurance. Moreover, it is now obvious that when our Republican representatives said they had a fine Republican plan ready to put in place, they lied, and now they are trying to find a way out of the swamp they put themselves into. It will be interesting to see how they do that.
I have said before in this column that we Americans have put too much emphasis on the presidency. One of the great debates in the Constitutional Convention was over the power of the president. Many Americans at the time feared that having a strong president was too much like having a king. I believe that many of the men who produced the Constitution, including George Washington, would be appalled to see what the presidency has become since Washington refused to seek a third term.
But something in us as a people, still searches for the superman who will, all by himself, give us the perfect republic we somehow think we deserve, without any effort on our part.
It isn’t going to happen.