Over Easy: The wisdom of the ancients

Dan Mackie (Courtesy photograph)

Dan Mackie (Courtesy photograph)


For the Valley News

Published: 07-04-2024 8:01 PM

Modified: 07-08-2024 5:48 PM

I don’t know if I can say that liberals are superior, but we really are superior at panic. We are world-class, first-rate, top-shelf, unrivaled. Squirrels in the road have nothing on us. A chipmunk staring down a cat is relaxed by comparison.

I did not watch the apocalyptic Biden-Trump debate, but I awoke early the next morning with a feeling of doom and resignation. I am a Red Sox fan, a pessimist in politics and sports, and victory always comes as a surprise.

My pessimism was rewarded.

The New York Times reported that the end wasn’t just near, but here. Biden Stumbles. Nation Quakes. Columnists Drench Keyboards With Tears. Counselors Dispatched to Newsroom.

I despise televised debates. We are electing a Commander-in-Chief, not a Debater-Cum Laude. I have watched almost none of them. They are a reality show that illuminates the state of the world only a little more than “Survivor” and “Love Island”. (I don’t watch them, honest.)

I have streamed the Kennedy-Nixon debate on YouTube and was struck by how substantive it was. Now candidates wrassle for an take-down. Remember when agin’ Ronald Reagan, 73, “won” his debate with a good line about not “exploiting, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience”?

Even Walter Mondale laughed. And I don’t remember him being a barrel of fun. The quip changed history, or so TV told us.

Still, when I saw my liberal friends panicking in the streets and Starbucks after this latest debate, I prepared my “go bag” — back copies of The Atlantic, tasty vegan treats, a green energy pamphlet, instructions for Canadian citizenship (I’m eligible, actually) — until I came to my senses. Although I keep it to myself, I’m a bit of a Yankee Doodle Dandy. I bleed red, white and blue, which astounds and concerns my doctors.

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I don’t even want to move to Vermont, but I’d do it if things get too funky in Trump 2.0 or the Supreme Court orders the Ten Commandments to be posted in schools, libraries and fortune cookies. Vermont is just a short walk from my bunker in West Lebanon, and cannabis is legal there. I haven’t inhaled since the 1970s. Oh wow, man!

So I meditated for three hours, took an eight-hour walk, drank a gallon of green tea and read the opening pages of Kafka’s “Metamorphoses” to take my mind off my own troubles. (Spoiler alert: The protagonist wakes up after a night’s sleep to find he has turned into a rather large insect. Real panic material.) I painted my face blue and did an extended session of mindful breathing — in for four seconds, out for seven, hold for four. Scream. Repeat.

After I was able to unlock the doors and open the curtains, I wondered if TV debates were the best gauge of presidential fitness. There must be something better. It came to me in a flash — Presidential Jeopardy! A five-day tournament where candidates would face categories like Oath of Office, The Constitution, Infrastructure, Special Prosecutors, Famous Resignations and Chester A. Arthur’s Mustache.

That may sound stupid. But stupid is in season right now.

Just last week I found a copy of George Vaillant’s Aging Well in the Little Free Library in West Lebanon. I’m not far enough into it to ease my Biden panic but it did lead me to Cicero’s De Senectute, an essay on old age written in 44 B.C.

Marcus Tullius Cicero was in his 63rd year when he wrote this:

“Those, therefore, who deny that old age has any place in the management of affairs, are as unreasonable as those would be who should say that the pilot takes no part in sailing a ship because others climb the masts, others go to and fro in the gangways, others bail the hold, while he sits still in the stern and holds the helm. The old man does not do what the young men do; but he does greater and better things.

“Great things are accomplished, not by strength, or swiftness, or suppleness of body, but by counsel, influence, deliberate opinion, of which old age is not wont to be bereft, but, on the other hand, to possess them more abundantly.”

I would say he was on Team Biden, but who knows?

This column was filed Thursday morning. I’m not sure what’s going to happen with our president. I’m not sure what I even want to happen.

So let’s hold panic in reserve. It’s always an option, but we don’t have to hurry into it, lest we pull a muscle or something. I’m going to warm up with angst, dread, jitters, nail biting, cold sweats and goosebumps.

After that, from here until November, there will be no stopping me.

Dan Mackie lives in West Lebanon. He can be reached at dan.mackie@yahoo.com.