28 September 2020

Try not to use the wrong brain

When Ulysses Grant left office, he went back to being Mr. Grant.  Sure, he'd been a general (he'd been the general, but he wasn't serving any longer) and he'd been president (but the whole point to being President, rather than a king, is that you stop doing it).  So,  by address, Mr. Grant.

At least since President Carter, that hasn't been true; it's still, by address, President Carter, President Clinton, President Bush, President Obama.

That's a mistake; that's making the presidency holy, instead of a job.  Once you do that, you can't think about it accurately; it picks up this nonsensical air of immutability rather than being a job, and the current holder of the job being subject to material evaluation.

Holiness has been undone before; the House of Hohenzollern is still rich, still owns (and sometimes inhabits) castles, but the head of the house is Mr. Hohenzollern.  And that was with a fair number of people who did not want it undone, rather as there are a fair number today who demand a king and will not have the president be anything other than holy.

One of the best simple things a hypothetical Biden admin could do would be to change the protocol rules, and get real strict about former presidents losing the title of address.  Yeah, sure, you had the fate of the world in your hands for awhile, but you put it down.  The brimstone whiff of the mushroom cloud and soulless glint of the market attend on you no longer.

And, yeah, sure, Trump hasn't got his own fate in his hands.  Trump's haplessness is not the point; the point is that which is public is not, after all, that which is holy.  If you try to make the simple material necessity of the public sphere -- the requirement to keep the minimum qualification for civilisation and maintain for all citizens the odds of dying of violence or starvation so low as to be immaterial -- a  holy thing, you wind up with something that isn't civilisation or in any respect holy.

You'd think more people would notice.


Richard Campbell said...

This has been the standard form of address for retired elected officials of any level for generations though...Senator, Governor, Mayor: all are properly addressed as the highest title they achieved. President is not special in this regard.

Graydon said...

+Richard Campbell

It has. Fixing what went wrong between 1870 and today might as well start with the address of past presidents.

Seruko said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Seruko said...

Judith Martin argues strongly against you in her well sourced book "star-spangled manners

JReynolds said...

In Canada, we refer to the live ones as "former Prime Minister L", while the dead ones are "Prime Minister D".

So John Turner is now Prime Minister Turner, while a few days ago he was "former Prime Minister Turner" (he died on September 19, 2020, for those of you who aren't up on Canadian Prime Ministers who served in that role for 100 days or less (Turner made it to 79 days, making him the 2nd shortest serving Canadian PM))

At least, that's how things seem to me.

dilbert dogbert said...

I never give the current occupant of the White House a title. To me he is the man in the Offal Orifice, tDrumpf or tDrump. That is when I am trying to be nice.

Moz said...

It has always seemed to me a weird custom to have multiple supreme leaders. I mean, we had "the queen mother" who for nasty reasons had previously been queen (and for equal nasty reasons the current spouse-of-ruler is a prince not a king), but there's never been a suggestion that a ruler who abdicates keeps their title. Having Presidents Carter, Bush, Bush, Obama, and Trump all running round presidenting at things seems a bit over the top. Maybe you should remind them of their status by instead calling them all "Junior Woodchuck" or whatever their first formal title was?

We do much the same with former whatsits down the line, from Former Prime Munster Tony Abbott to former head librarian Faye Leov.