Everything and everyone seems to have a special “Day” - the Groundhog has one, of course, the feminist leader Susan B. Anthony had her Day yesterday, and today is Lithuanian Independence Day in case you didn’t know. But not all “Days” are equal, even among the Saints. The Days of St. Nicholas and St Valentine, for example, get more attention than all the rest. Some would argue that the really important Saint’s day is still a month ahead, and belongs to Saint Patrick. Today, however, we celebrate a one hundred percent secular event: Presidents’ Day, so don’t expect to get money out of the bank or books out of the library.
The degree of excitement surrounding any special day seems to be in direct proportion to its sales potential. Super Bowl Sunday is huge, for example, as are Christmas and Valentine’s Day. But President’s Day, while historically important, is a low-energy, low-profit event. There are some sales, and a day off for bank and post office employees, and that’s about it. The same lack of commercial possibilities seems to have muted the celebrations last Thursday. This was, by a remarkable coincidence, the 200th anniversary of the birth of both Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin. Lincoln is an American icon, of course, but Darwin has arguably had more influence on the way we think that all forty-four Presidents put together, plus all the kings, prime ministers, emperors and dictators who ever strutted across the world stage. With his world-changing book The Origin of Species, Darwin helped us to understand why leaders lead, and why followers follow, and what all those Valentine’s Day hearts and flowers are really all about. This is important stuff, whether you agree with it or not.
No doubt we all have our own personal hierarchy of importance when it comes to big anniversaries and national events. The guys behind the counter in the post office, who are my main source of information about the real world, are still discussing the Super Bowl two weeks after the event, but they ignored Darwin Day completely, and I bet when the Post Office re-opens tomorrow they won’t have much to say about President’s Day either. Which is a pity because Presidents are important, possibly even more important that quarter backs although I know it’s sacrilege to say so. Quarter backs only have to carry one ball: a President must carry hundreds, and is counted a failure if he drops a single one.
When George Washington took on the job in 1789 there were fewer than four million Americans in this vast continent. Now there are close to three hundred millions, a nation so big and complicated that it seems beyond the possibility of government. Yet forty-four ordinary human mortals, some of them very ordinary indeed, have tried to govern it, and perhaps they deserve more credit than they usually get for attempting the impossible. If we had our priorities right we might put a lot more energy into historically important events like Presidents Day, celebrating it perhaps with a general amnesty for past Presidents and a ritual payment of back taxes by all our patriotic billionaires. And it wouldn’t do any harm to focus more attention on intellectually important anniversaries like Darwin Day, which could be commemorated with seminars, lively debates, and educational trips to the local zoo.
This is a perfectly sensible and rational suggestion. But there’s nothing less popular on this earth than a perfectly sensible and rational suggestion. This is the first lesson that every new President learns.
This is David Bouchier