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Whitman on Election

1leaves

Since last year, I made a habit of reading Walt Whitman everyday. I keep the hardback on my nightstand for easy access. Literature, he argues, constructs the scaffolding of society’s values and “has become the only general means of morally influencing the world.” Archetypal characters of literature shape the moral character and political ideals of a culture. Long after the political structures of the ancient world ave crumbled, what remains of Ancient Greece and Rome and the other great civilizations is their literature.

In light of Super Tuesday, in a sentiment that makes one shudder imagining what the poet would have made of Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy, Whitman writes,

I know nothing grander, better exercise, better digestion, more positive proof of the past, the triumphant result of faith in human kind, than a well-contested American national election.

[…]

America, it may be, is doing very well upon the whole, notwithstanding these antics of the parties and their leaders, these half-brain’d nominees, the many ignorant ballots, and many elected failures and blatherers. It is the dilettantes, and all who shirk their duty, who are doing well…. America, if eligible at all to downfall and ruin, is eligible within herself, not without.”

Therefore, the sole antidote, Whitman reminds us, lies in our own hands and the ballots they hold—in not shirking our duty as voters.

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