Presidents’ Day

I listened to Aaron Copland’s “Lincoln Portrait” in the car this morning and had to pull over into a parking place because it was so powerful, so poignant, so moving. Henry Fonda was the narrator, reciting important sections of Abraham Lincoln’s public utterances: The Second Inaugural and, of course, the masterful Gettysburg Address. I never tire of Lincoln’s words, their clarity, simplicity and eloquence. I’m also reading Ron Chernow’s fine biography of Ulysses S. Grant and thoroughly enjoying reminders not only of Grant’s brilliance as a military strategist but also his moral character and his eloquence. The correspondence between the Civil War General and the Commander in Chief is worth reading the entire, very large, book. Both Lincoln and Grant knew how to use language, Lincoln – self-taught, Grant – as a student at West Point and a life-long reader. Both were thoughtful and eloquent and their moral character shines through their words.

The American presidency is a unique and remarkable institution, part political leader representing the politics and policies of one political party, but also a national leader, the one who inspires us and lifts us up and holds us together, the very embodiment of our unity, our e Pluribus Unum. The best of them articulated our hopes, calmed our fears in times of war, depression and national tragedy, but also appealed to our nobler angels, inspiring Americans to be bigger and better and as good as the high ideals of our Founders. And the best of our presidents displayed authentic humanness and humility with which ordinary Americans could identify and which allowed us to hold our heads high.

George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses Grant himself, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Barack Obama.

The mere recitation of those names reminds me of the stability and resiliency of the Presidency and the form of government it represents. I have met Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama. While disagreeing with the politics and policies of some of them I was nevertheless deeply and profoundly honored to meet them and shake their hands. I had and have no hesitation to call each of them, “my president.” On one memorable occasion we were invited to one of the annual White House Christmas parties. I suspect it was arranged by a Presbyterian friend. It certainly wasn’t because I was a generous supporter of the then president which I definitely was not. Along with the other guests, maybe 100-200, we stood in line for the final of several security checks and then, one couple at a time, were escorted by a military aide and introduced to the President and the First Lady for a brief exchange of pleasantries and an official photograph. Then, released from our escort we climbed the stairs to the first floor of the White House, were greeted by the Marine Band playing festive Christmas music and then roamed freely: East Room, Blue Room, State Dining Room, each exquisitely decorated with a tree and wreaths and a table laden with food and drink. We knew no one else there. Everyone seemed to be a Texas Republican and, thankfully, no one paid a bit of attention to us. When Karl Rove appeared mixing with the crowd and I made a move to introduce myself my wife, whose political commitments are strong and perfectly clear, physically restrained me. “Please don’t make me do that,” she said. So we visited and sat down in each room of the White House, enjoyed a finger sandwich and sipped a drink and toasted the President and it will always be one of our most precious memories.

I simply cannot muster the energy or creativity or desire to say anything about the current president, who daily demonstrates his utter unfitness for the office and daily denigrates the presidency and embarrasses me by his ignorance, crudeness, gracelessness and monumental egotism, other than I hope he remains healthy and safe until someone else becomes our president, my president again.

Presidents’ Day reminds us of the resiliency of the office and assures us that no one president, however deplorable and shameful, can permanently damage it. Reading the list of American Presidents before this one, I am reminded that the office has somehow produced distinguished leaders and will one day do so again.

Until then, Happy Presidents’ Day.


  1. Mark Melson says:

    John – I loved this blog and continually marvel at your skill for articulating how I feel better than I can! I hope you won’t mind a small correction from this retired symphony executive: Copland has no “e,” Judy and I send our thanks for this thoughtful piece, and our best wishes to you and Sue.

    Mark Melson

  2. John Buchanan says:

    Thank you. One edit if possible. Paragraph 1, line 10… “simplicity and elements” should be “ simplicity and eloquence”. Thanks and no big deal.

    Sent from my iPhone


  3. Thank you, John for taking us to the high ground . . . and the lovely tribute to Sue!

  4. Maria Tupper says:

    Thank you, John and Gordon. Yes, taking us to a higher ground.

  5. Tally Krumm says:

    It is so very sad, John, that we are forced to look backward for greatness, or even just simple decency, among our political leadership rather than celebrating both in the present.

  6. marylehoczky says:

    Thank you for this word of historical encouragement, even as we must be steadfast in our attempts to limit the damage brought about by this careless and casual WH occupant.

  7. jack macmullan says:

    I could not agree more with your description of our newest president. However much i disdain his leadership, personality, and view points, he is still the president of our great country, and thus (like it or not), my president. jack macmullan.

  8. timjweaver says:

    I’m going to print your brilliant reflection and leave it next to my computer. Then each time I see a news feed that begins “Trump slams… [fill in the blank], I’ll ignore it, reread your post, and think about the legacy of Abraham Lincoln. Thank you, Dr. Buchanan.

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