Pronouns and Politics
After a contentious election that left us with an electoral victory for Trump and a popular vote victory for Clinton, we remain a pretty evenly divided country. But on a smaller note — and of some interest to me as writer — is the amount of noise given over to pronouns: Many Clinton supporters have brandished signs and blogs and Facebook posts with some variant of the headline “Not My President.”
I understand the sentiment of course. Basically, a desire to proclaim that the sign wavers didn’t vote for Trump. This is an old trope and aligns with the bumper stickers we eventually see after any election which say “Don’t Blame Me, I Voted for __________” — the blank being whoever lost the last contest. We’re bound to see them again this time round. But back to the pronouns.
I have never thought of the president as being MY president. Nor do I think of my district representative or state senator as MY representative or MY congressperson or MY senator. The first person possessive seems a bit of an overreach. I mean the senator isn’t MY senator. I don’t own him. He ostensibly represents the collective interests of MY state’s voting population, which given America’s shamelessly low turnout ends up representing a minority of the voting age population. But that’s another story.
I never thought of Obama or Bush or Clinton or Reagan or any of them as MY president. I simply thought of them as THE president. The definite article pretty much covers their status as far as I’m concerned. This of course didn’t keep me from liking or abjuring or loving or loathing them, whether as human beings or for pursuing objectives I favored or abhorred. The sense of MY, the first person possessive, attaches more readily to representative or senator, mostly because the designation in that case works like a restrictive expression in that it indicates which representative or senator I am referring to, that being the one who represents my state or my district. Otherwise I would be working with labored expressions like Ohio’s Junior (or Senior) Senator or the 26th District’s congressional representative. By saying MY in these cases, and knowing that I have to live in a state and a specific district to vote, I provide the qualifying information about which senator or representative I’m talking about.
In the case of president, there can be no confusion. The last time we had anything remotely confusing was during the civil war. This habit of saying “my” president has echoes of “my” country, as in the old jingoist expression, “my country, right or wrong.” But the office of the president doesn’t represent a place I’m from (like a state or district). It’s a singularly unique position, and certainly I have no more control over the president’s actions than the average joe, that being someone without wealth or a ridiculously large Twitter following — of which I have neither.
So when people say “Not My President,” they’re only displaying their disdain for who the president in question is. We should remember that upon entry to a joint session of congress to deliver the State of the Union Address, the sergeant at arms loudly proclaims, “Ladies and Gentleman, the President of the United States.” He doesn’t say “our” president” but “the” president. We only have one at a time. A good thing I suppose. I might be willing to accept the designation “our” president, but I’d probably use it in quotation marks in some cases — putting quotation marks around “president” rather than “our.” But as I noted earlier, “my” president assumes a relationship I don’t and will never have. That’s how representative democracy works. You don’t own the legislators or the president or the judges. You just hope they will act in our collective interests and hope that no one can really call them “my” president. You know, like when you say my plumber or my barber or my lawyer — people who will do your bidding for a fee.
©2016 John Hofmeister. Originally published at http://www.jhofmeister.com/musings
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When I'm not writing for clients, I write about things that interest me. Quite of bit of satire, a genre that has become increasingly difficult to work in since reality has become such a farce.