Continental Divides

The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

The majority of today’s candidates remain clueless, practically portraying themselves as the second coming

By John McCaslin

Whenever Jon Tester and Tim Sheehy file into my living room, which is during every commercial break of every telecast of every streaming platform, I shift my focus to the fireplace mantel, where the late Will Rogers is forever cast in the saddle of his favorite roping horse, Soapsuds.

Several decades ago, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists put Charlie Russell’s bronze sculpture of his dear friend on the auction block, and I made sure I was the highest bidder.

Ever since, whenever in the throes of an exhausting election cycle like this one, I’ve channeled the cowboy philosopher and his trusty mount to guide me through the political discord.

Especially now that we’re entering the final six-month stretch of an already grueling 2023-2024 campaign season, which has endured interminable mudslinging from Montana to Mar-a-Lago.

My latest channeling session with the illustrious thinker begins with the acknowledgment that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

“We all joke about Congress, but we can’t improve on them,” Will reminds me. “Have you noticed that no matter who we elect, he is just as bad as the one he replaces?”

I’ve long realized that, but the majority of today’s candidates remain clueless, practically portraying themselves as the second coming.

But far worse, Will, you’d barely recognize our American republic today. We’ve reached an inflection point; the country’s fundamental democratic process is in danger of collapsing. I’m beyond concerned.

“Worrying is like paying on a debt that may never come true,” the cowboy counsels. “Don’t let yesterday use up too much of today.”

Try telling that to the White House wannabe who obsesses with the past, and in the most vulgar of terms.

“It is better for someone to think you’re a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt,” Will admonishes. “Never miss a good chance to shut up.”

What if he can’t?

“People who fly into a rage always make a bad landing,” he replies.

Perhaps in normal situations, but the latest polling suggests otherwise.

Will pauses, not blinking.

“If stupidity got us into this mess, then why can’t it get us out?” he asks.

Well, there’s certainly no shortage of stupid these days, but wouldn’t it be risky if the commander-in-chief who got us into this mess tries to dig us out?

“This country has gotten where it is in spite of politics, not by the aid of it,” Will educates. “That we have carried as much political bunk as we have and still survived shows we are a super nation.”

I’d be remiss by not asking your opinion about presidents growing feeble in the Oval Office, which no matter how you cut it we’re stuck with for another four years.

“We do nothing till somebody shoves us,” the roper concurs. “It’s an age of in one ear and out the other.”

Still, he stresses: “You must judge a man’s greatness by how much he will be missed.”

Good point.

“You know,” Will reasons, “the more you read and observe about this politics thing, you got to admit that each party is worse than the other. The one that’s out always looks the best.”

If indeed all parties are one and the same, as you suggest, then perhaps it’s better to relax and let the chips fall where they may.

“The worst thing that happens to you may be the best thing for you if you don’t let it get the best of you.”

I catch what you’re saying, although I still have some doubts.

“There is only one redeeming thing about this whole election,” the cowboy concludes. “It will be over at sundown, and let everybody pray that it’s not a tie, for we couldn’t go through with this thing again. And when the votes are counted, let everybody, including the candidates, get into a good humor as quick as they got into a bad one.

“Both gangs have been bad sports, so see if at least one can’t redeem themselves by offering no alibis, but cooperate with the winner, for no matter which one it is the poor fellow is going to need it.

“So cheer up. Let’s all be friends again. One of the evils of democracy is you have to put up with the man you elect whether you want him or not. That’s why we call it democracy.”

 John McCaslin is a longtime print and broadcast journalist. Quotes attributed to Will Rogers are verbatim and date to the early 20th century.