Civil or Vulgar

Posted on March 13, 2016


A person who leads nations usually reflects the mood and manners of the people they lead. In some instances, they actually lead by example. But that is only an occasional leader who springs up in history and enjoys a mandate by the immense power of his character.

At the core of this argument, “Clayton’s Rule (see first sentence above),” is that there exist two determinants of our history.

One, the tectonic movements beneath the surface, such as deep social, economic, cultural, technological, political movements, invariably determine history. Men and women who lead are only responding to those movements, taking advantage of them. And two, occasionally, and I emphasize only very occasionally, do people rise up to lead and they themselves make history, not the reverse.

This is not a new theory. It is the “great man versus great movements” historical conundrum.

Sorry girls, but I’m tired of p.c. and so if you are offended, just go to the funnies or sports page. Or turn to the national political pundits to find out who really is offensive in today’s presidential sweepstakes.

And I apologize to horses since I equate “sweepstakes” with horse races and horses are really nice animals.

In the eighteenth century, manners ruled the behavior between people, at least people who counted, such as monarchs and nobles or those who had access to resources and aspired to rise to the upper classes.

Our first President, George Washington, mirrored these manners, and was a model of civility. He had his moments. When some soldiers threatened to disrupt his authority, he had them executed.

Treason was treason, even in a time when manners and civility—dressing right, behaving correctly, being clever, knowing how to curtsey (look that up)—were just as rigid as those who adopt the grunge look today.

Washington conducted his life with such dignity that some suggested he should be made king of the new republic. Others were not quite ready to exchange King George III for King George I.

Washington returned home to Mt. Vernon to tend to his plantation whenever he wasn’t dragooned into public service. He was a good example of a man who rose to the top, propelled by historical circumstances. He didn’t seek power; it came seeking him.

Washington also mirrored the manners of his people. This is not to say that there weren’t besotted tavern keepers and enough wenches in the cities and provinces to give some spice to life. But one generally behaved according to certain well prescribed rules and principles. Read Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanack for some useful hints on how to get along, and get ahead in this world.

In the nineteenth century, a queen, Victoria, governed Great Britain for many years and set her stamp on society, so much so that the period of her rule eventually was named the Victorian period by historians.

Victorians were stuffed shirts, with top hats, long flowing dresses, repressed sexually, and all the men seemed to dress in suits and wear ties, even those cleaning chimneys, sweeping the streets, and coming off the boats, poor and huddled, as immigrants in the shadows of the Statue of Liberty.

There was a certain pretentiousness to society that turns us off today. Hypocrisy, for example, seemed rampant. These elegant men and women who governed by very proper rules and etiquette were also in the business of conquering the world for England, France, Germany and other imperial powers on the make. But they were only rarely vulgar or rude as they went about making fortunes and empires.

What was once “proper” broke down in the twentieth century, and seems to have disappeared completely in the second decade of the twenty-first century.

We have given up on manners and civility. Our language is filthy, our morals make cats by comparison seem like prudes, our religion is watered down to please the public, our music degenerate and guess what, those wishing to govern us, like the leading presidential candidate, embody the society they want to lead. No wonder the public loves him!

So, we come around full circle to “Clayton’s Rule:” A person who leads nations usually reflects the mood and manners of the people they lead.

You may think Mr. Trump is potty mouthed, vain, rude, and vulgar. He in fact is a reflection of what our society looks like today.

He is not a true leader, one of the few in history who have led by their strength of character and virtue. Instead he was thrown up by the forces of history and finds himself riding the wave, cheered on wildly by a permissive society that wants someone like themselves to take them to the next level.

As the old saying goes, be careful what you wish for, for you may get it.

Published as “We Usually Get Leaders We Deserve,” in The Tuscaloosa News, Sunday, March 12, 2016.



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