Election Day is here, marking the end of what Politico called “the dirtiest presidential race since ’72.” To ease the tension of the big day, we asked seven faculty members to participate in a quirky thought experiment that challenged each of them to consider how one well known but long dead person in their respective fields would have voted in the 2016 presidential election. The responses were insightful, sobering, and occasionally hilarious.
Ron Sandler, chair of the Department of Philosophy and Religion, on Henry David Thoreau, the transcendentalist best know for penning Walden:
Henry David Thoreau was one of America’s most prominent 19th century writers and thinkers. In his most famous work, Walden, Thoreau extols the virtues of simplicity and introspection, as well appreciation of and attentiveness to the natural world. In another influential work, Civil Disobedience, Thoreau argues that citizens must not be complicit with injustice, even if this causes them hardship or requires violating the law.
A common theme throughout Thoreau’s moral and political writing is the primacy of good character, of virtue. He would surely be disappointed with his choices in this election. But he would prefer Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump on social justice and environmental grounds, and he would be repelled by Trump’s self-aggrandizement, avariciousness, and anti-intellectualism: “Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth,” he wrote in Walden.
Thoreau would also challenge each of us to think about our own character and actions beyond this election: “The fate of the country does not…depend on what kind of paper you drop in the ballot box once a year,” he wrote in Slavery in Massachusetts, “but on what kind of man you drop from your chamber into the street every morning.”
Bill Fowler, Distinguished Professor of History, on Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States:
Having spent his entire life in politics trying to preserve the Union, it became Abraham Lincoln’s sad fate to preside over the most destructive war in American history. Yet, in the midst of that war, he remained optimistic about the future of the Republic. In his annual message to Congress, on Dec. 1, 1862, he wrote that the American Republic was “the last best hope of Earth.” To succeed the nation needed to follow a path “plain, generous, [and] just.”
Toward the end of the war he repeated this message in his second inaugural address, on March 4, 1865. “With malice towards none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, [and] do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.” Lincoln certainly would not have voted for Donald Trump.
Scott Edmiston, professor of the practice and chair of the Department of Theatre, on Oscar Wilde, the author and playwright best know for his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray:
Oscar Wilde might have voted for Trump. Wilde liked to shock and provoke society. So although Secretary Clinton has championed the LGBTQ community and the arts—and Wilde would have adored her pantsuits—Trump would have given him tremendous source material for his witticisms.
Some Wilde quotes sound rather Trumpalicious: “I am so clever that sometimes I don’t understand a single word of what I am saying.” “There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.” “The public have an insatiable curiosity to know everything, except what is worth knowing.” And “I like persons better than principles, and I like persons with no principles better than anything else in the world.”
Susan Setta, associate professor of philosophy and religion, on Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science:
Toward the end of her life, Mary Baker Eddy cautioned one of her followers to “avoid being identified pro or con in politics.” She probably would not have shared her views publicly. Eddy also wrote in an unpublished paper that the “peace and prosperity of a people largely depend on the morals of their leaders and the equity of their laws.”
Eddy was intrigued by—not afraid of—other faith traditions and she depended on freedom of religion for the tradition she founded to thrive. She probably would have been put off by Donald Trump’s approach to Islam. As a 19th-century woman, Eddy would never even have heard the language Donald Trump used on the campaign trail. Eddy saw Christian Science move throughout the world; it’s doubtful she would have appreciated Trump’s isolationism.
Eddy would probably have approved of Hillary Clinton’s public service, especially her concern for children and families. Eddy wrote that “The time for thinkers has come,” so Clinton’s careful preparation for the debates and complex solutions to contemporary problems would have appealed to her. Though Eddy would never tell us who she voted for, we can by looking at what was important to her guess that she would cast her vote for Clinton.
Oscar Brookins, associate professor of economics, on John Maynard Keynes, the founder of modern macroeconomics:
John Maynard Keynes, who revolutionized macroeconomics and did much to define the role of modern government as having responsibility in assuring the welfare of its citizens, was anything other than a radical. He was by his own admission a staunch member of the educated bourgeois and said if there were a revolution, he would stand with the conservatives for the preservation of civility and orderliness.
He argued government must act to eliminate long periods of unemployment lest the deprivation and suffering would provoke those suffering to seek revolution. We must not forget that Keynes was a chief architect among those who created the postwar institutions that have worked to foster world trade and stable currencies—the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the General Assembly on Tariffs and Trade. He was not interested is destroying world order or disrupting domestic tranquility; he would not be an ally of Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders.
He had no sympathy for socialism or communism but rather a strong desire to maintain and preserve capitalism, and he sought to have government act to take corrective action to assure it would persevere. He would be what we call an elite intellectual and would find himself in the camp of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s supporters.
Candice Delmas, assistant professor of philosophy and political science, on Ayn Rand, the novelist and philosopher best known for writing Atlas Shrugged and for developing a philosophical system called Objectivism:
A number of Ayn Rand fans support Donald Trump for president. But whom would Rand vote for today? Rand championed “Objectivism,” a comprehensive philosophical system holding “the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.” Ethically, Objectivism supports selfishness. Economically, Objectivism demands laissez-faire capitalism. So Rand would oppose Hillary Clinton’s call for compassion and her proposal to increase taxation for the wealthiest. Trump is no laissez-faire capitalist (he advocates a 20 percent tax on imports, for instance), but he sure has the selfishness down.
Rand would likely deem Trump’s political platform the “lesser evil” compared with Clinton’s. And yet, I doubt that she would publicly endorse the Republican candidate, insofar as he embodies chief Objectivist vices: irrationality, evasion of reality, and dishonesty. Rand would be appalled by Trump’s disregard for reason, carelessness for the truth, and troll-like demeanor in this election.
Dan Kennedy, associate professor in the School of Journalism, on Walter Cronkite, the former anchorman of the CBS Evening News:
It seems obvious and predictable to say that Walter Cronkite would have voted for Hillary Clinton. But I think that’s exactly what he would have done, and that probably would be true even if the Republican candidate were not a narcissistic demagogue like Donald Trump.
As a journalist, Cronkite was dedicated to following the story and reporting the truth, starting in World War II and continuing through Vietnam and Watergate. He brought the human touch to journalism as well. Through his heartbreak at the news that President John F. Kennedy had died and his boyish enthusiasm for the space program, Americans could see their own emotions reflected back at them.
I think Cronkite would have voted for Clinton because, after his retirement, he let it be known that his views tended to be liberal. He also would have liked the idea of voting for the first woman president. But he would have been appalled at Trump and the frank appeal he has made to racism and misogyny.
In Walter Cronkite’s world, presidential candidates were honorable people trying to do what was best for the country. Despite Clinton’s flaws, I think Cronkite would have seen her as part of that tradition—and Trump as a dangerous aberration.