John Adams

By Doug Farmer  

“And so my fellow Americans: Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” — John F. Kennedy in his 1961 inaugural address

What we have now is a battle to the end between the present and the past. A wasteful, lustful, inept battle.

The present is determined to destroy Donald Trump, to erase the embarrassment of his victory, to undo the mistakes of an election.

The past is equally determined to prove suspicions that the Clintons were every evil ever visited upon our republic, and only a double standard protected them for so long.

It will be a battle to the end. All the while, both sides will ignore a fact proven repeatedly throughout history: When the past and the present battle, the future is lost.

A grim reality of the unknown replaces a potentially-promising future. The vacuum created knows no victory. No one is better off. Nothing is created.

What is missing on both sides these days, and has been for some time now, is the acceptance that the losers are the trustees of democracy. If the losing politician, the losing party, or the losing idea fails to accept the results of the democracy, then the darkness that currently besets us is the result.

Perhaps the greatest American was not George Washington, Thomas Jefferson or Abraham Lincoln. Maybe that recognition should go to John Adams, the first loser. Adams had the dubious honor of losing the presidency to Jefferson, even though he received the most popular votes. (Jefferson’s electoral votes came from the slave-holding states where those who were counted as three-fifths of a person could not vote, yet they were counted in the population contributing to Jefferson’s electoral advantage.) As the “first” trustee of democracy, Adams simply went home. He lost and that was it.

Historical evidence indicates Adams was quite bitter. He felt betrayed by his friend, Jefferson, to whom he had offered a co-presidency.

Adams went home.

He didn’t claim the French influenced the election. Jefferson never had to offer counterclaims of British overreach. Neither side liked the other, and it goes down as an election more bitter than our most recent. But Adams accepted the results of a stingingly-bitter election in which he could have argued triumph.

The bitterness went on. But the present and the past did not battle to the death. The future was secured in the hands of Jefferson, however much Adams may have been perturbed, aggravated, or perhaps enraged.

If only our country had but one John Adams today. Beyond doubt, we have 535 in Congress who think they rise to that level, but as the present battles the past to an unknown end, not one steps forward with the grace of Adams.

Not one grasps hold of Kennedy’s underlying charge. Asking what your country can do for you is looking back at what it has already done for others. Asking what you can do for your country is looking toward a future, even if that means accepting the past and moving forward, a la Adams. Perhaps especially in that instance.

Doug Farmer has worked at Park Bank since 1981 and began his term on the State of Wisconsin Banking Review Board in 2003. He’s lived in La Crosse since 1971. You can reach him at douglas.farmer@helloparkbank.com.

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