I’m a great one for tradition but only the ones that have meaning behind them. Let me explain.
In England, the changing of the Royal Guard has been going on since 1689. The Royal Guard’s ceremony has taken place at different castles for different monarchs over the centuries. When Queen Victoria established residence at Buckingham Palace, the Royal Guard came with her. The Guard has protected monarchs there ever since and provided millions of people a glimpse into the pomp and circumstance of British royal life. Over 500 years of such a tradition represents stability and offers a sense of permanence to Great Britain’s people.
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Every year, for as long as I could remember, our family had a tradition of going to Grandma’s downtown house to watch the Memorial Day parade and then head up to the cottage at the lake. We always called it The Lake, never it’s actual name. We would have a cookout, put the dock in and have a very fast swim in the icy water if the sun was shining.
The porch furniture had to be arranged and the green awning hung out. The awning had multiple cords, hooks and pulleys that were always tangled no matter how careful we put it away in the Fall. Grandpa would always tease us that we looked like rookie sailors setting sail for the first time, but we would eventually sort it out. As the awning was finally unfurled, Grandma would come out and exclaim how nice it looked like she had never seen it before. The end of the day would come all too soon. And then we would head home.
Back in my parents’ house I would lay in bed and smile a little before drifting off to sleep. The end of that traditional Memorial Day get-together meant something: School was almost over, and summer was here.
I could stay for weeks at a time at The Lake in the summer. There was fishing and swimming. Grandpa and I could talk about history and politics on the porch while watching the boats buzz by. It meant late night snacks with Grandma, her stories about the old neighborhood on North Street including all the characters that lived and worked there. The summer, it seemed, would begin that night of Memorial Day after the family get-together. Even as an adult, I found it difficult to fall asleep, caught up in the anticipation of summertime at The Lake.
That tradition might not seem like much to someone from the outside looking in, but I remember the very first time that tradition ended for me when we moved to Montana. It was the first Memorial Day at our new home. I was cooking my special bacon cheeseburgers for everyone when my sister called from The Lake. The raucous family noise in the background on the phone was so familiar it made me smile but when Grandma came on the line, I abruptly had a difficult time controlling my emotions. I choked up and made some silly excuse to get off the phone. That tradition meant more to me than I knew or maybe it was the people involved with the tradition that meant something more.
I’m sure you have traditions that mean a great deal to you. Tell me about them in the comments below. I would love to hear them.
We have one tradition in this country that is mandated by law believe it or not. The State of the Union, or SOTU, in the parlance of Washinton D.C. (they have acronyms for everything don’t they?). Whether or not this tradition means anything is certainly up for debate but let me lay out a case for the good guys.
On this day, those that rule us gather with all the solemnity of a high school pep rally to watch the President of the United States or POTUS deliver a televised address concerning the state of our nation. The POTUS has information that no one else has on the state we are in, and it is his constitutional mandate to let everyone in Congress know what the heck is going on outside of the D.C. bubble. The POTUS also is supposed to recommend, for Congresses’ consideration, actions he considers necessary for the future. I know that this seems impossible, but these recommendations are highly classified. They can only be revealed during the State of the Union address or during the two-hour pre-SOTU shows on all the networks.
How do the networks get the highly classified information? One assumes sinister deep state forces within the White House release of the secret recommendations to the press every year. We really should have better security but that’s not important right now. Ultimately, the recommendations are always greeted with great surprise, astonishment, and no small amount of protest by the various factions in the audience. Apparently none of them watch any of the pre-SOTU shows.
Much like the Oscars or Grammy Awards, there is great interest as to who has been invited as dates, I mean guests, to sit in the reserved box seats. The box seats belong to The First Lady and the Speaker of the House. Each office can invite 24 guests. I have no idea how that came about so don’t ask. In addition, every member of Congress can invite one person who sits in the gallery.
The box seat occupants are the most interesting because many times, they are Firsts. We are obsessed with Firsts in this country. I am capitalizing Firsts because they are a separate and distinct kind of human being and therefore should be a proper noun. The First African American First Lady to sit in the box seats. The First Gay Person with a Prosthetic Leg paid for by Obama Care to sit in the box seats. The First Family of Victims of a College Speaker’s Triggering Speech to sit in the box seats.
The POTUS usually acknowledges the Firsts during the speech as a prelude to revealing his plans. Sometimes Presidents mouth things at guests during the riotous applause as he introduces them to the audience. I think it was Bill Clinton who mouthed “I love you” at the First Lady during one of his SOTU speeches though I‘m not good at lip reading and he could just as easily have been saying, “you are so hot” to someone in the gallery.
The whole point of the brave guests (they are always described as brave) is to try, by their very presence, to embarrass those who oppose the POTUS’s secret ideas that haven’t been revealed yet. The guests, who are brave in the face of the danger they experience by sitting there, must stare intently at the tops of the Congress folks’ heads at appropriate times. This is a very effective technique because as any political scientist will tell you, Congress folks always respond positively when their collective consciences are pricked by the stares of brave Firsts from above.
My favorite part of the ceremony is when the POTUS is introduced to the assembled legislators, and he walks down the aisle to the podium. You might think it’s odd to like that part, but you might not understand my sense of humor. All the POTUS’s friends and enemies in Congress push and shove each other to shake his hand, take selfies, and get autographed copies of his speech. I’ve always imagined they were slipping him hundred-dollar bills during the handshakes like Rodney Dangerfield did in the movie, Caddy Shack.
“Keep it fair, keep it fair.” They all say to POTUS.
“Oh, I couldn’t accept ….” says POTUS pocketing the money surreptitiously.
My next favorite part is what I call The Great Up and Down. This is when Congress finally finds out about how we are all doing, and the POTUS reveals his heretofore hidden plans. His allies, meaning his political party, start bouncing up and down in applause at every utterance. His opponents refuse to clap and sit there like sullen gargoyles. The Supremes sit there looking judicial and the Joint Chiefs—well no one pays attention to them anyway. I still have no idea why either group is there in the first place.
The cameras cover it all so analysts can evaluate and comment over the next few days. Who sat? Who stood? Who did something stupid? Who smirked inappropriately? How sad did the Firsts look at any moment? Did anyone make animal-like noises or pick their nose?
I’ve always wanted POTUS to reveal a plan he knows the opposing side will hate forcing them to sit like pouting children and then, at the last minute, throw a curve ball to confuse them all.
“I propose that we raise taxes by 3 % on income of over 500 million dollars and use the tax money to buy ice cream for veterans and prosthetic limbs for LBGTQ people.” (Nods to the box seats with knowing look. First Gay Person with Prosthetic Leg paid for by Obama Care staggers to his feet, clapping furiously with tears pouring down his cheeks.)
Picture it. No one will know what to do. Do they stand and applaud or sit on their hands? Some will pull out calculators trying to determine how their taxes would be affected. Others will proclaim their love for ice cream and bemoan the fact they didn’t know about this plan because they would have invited Ben or Jerry to be a guest. The great Dairy Caucus (I’m just assuming there is one) would be thrilled about government ice cream but then become confused about what they think about the LGBTQ people who are getting said ice cream and their prosthetic limbs paid for by Obama Care because that sounds like Communism. The First Family of Victims of College Speaker’s Triggering Speech to sit in the box seats would be on their feet shouting, “What about us? We like ice cream, especially plain vanilla!”
Granted, there would be some politicians that, after careful consideration and displaying great concern, would say veterans should get the limbs and LGBTQ people should get the ice cream, but I’m looking for mass confusion here on live television not the behind-the-scenes sausage-making that is Congress.
I‘ve always hated that sausage-making metaphor. Making sausage takes skill and produces something that tastes great and most people love it. That sure doesn’t describe Congress.
I wonder if there is a Sausage Caucus? I’ll investigate it.
Immediately after the speech there are the Official Responses. In some cases, these are supposed to be a soft try out for potential presidential runs in the future. At least that’s what I have been told by the all-knowing, all-seeing Talking Heads of the post-SOTU shows. Frankly, these speeches usually just consist of anti-whatever-the-president-says platitudes. They are almost always silly and boring, they really serve no purpose that I can see. One was done in Spanish by Bill Richardson which was a first (small f). I don’t know how that speech went because I don’t speak Spanish, but at least it was different.
The speech over, POTUS always goes on a nationwide speaking tour to bring his message to the American people who somehow missed the great traditional SOTU speech and have no idea what the president and his party want to do. Unfortunately, the only people who show up are hard core fans of the president and they already know what he wants to do. You might think this a giant waste of time and even against some campaign finance laws, but it somehow became a tradition, so we are stuck with it. (I blame Woodrow Wilson but that’s for another time.)
You may have noticed that I don’t think much of our traditional SOTU speech. There is a reason for that. Before Woodrow Wilson, the SOTU was a letter the president sent to congress. The letter was a tradition Thomas Jefferson started because he thought an in-person address, that Washington and John Adams had previously done, too monarchial. Wilson decided to end that tradition, and ever since, the speech has been given in person—more or less. Jimmy Carter didn’t do an in-person address after he lost to Ronald Reagan. If a letter was sufficient for everyone from Jefferson to Wilson, with all that history, why isn’t it enough now?
POTUS could send a group email to all of us and his constitutional duties would be fulfilled. Think about what could happen when citizens comment on his email and hit Reply All. Sheer Carnage!
My biggest objection however, is that there is no meaning to it. It’s all for show. It’s a reality TV show with all the inane, childish antics that appeal to the populace. I find the whole process beneath the dignity of all the offices involved and the occasion coarsens with each passing year. How long before someone rises to expose themselves to the cameras (there is at least one Congressperson who has a family member that was arrested for doing just that to children)? How long before someone screams “you lie!” at the POTUS ?
Wait. Sorry, that already happened.
What will it take for us to see this for the nonsensical political grandstanding show and ultimately useless exercise that it is? Clowns, a high-wire act, and a pie fight?
Speaking of pie, Grandma used to make this giant chocolate sheet cake with cream cheese frosting for the Memorial Day get-together every single year. The cake was so light, and that cream cheese frosting just melted in your mouth. I’ve tried but I just can’t replicate it. I really miss that all these years later.
No one would miss the SOTU speech.
One last thing.
Meanwhile, keep your nose into the wind and I’ll see you on the trail.