You might not appreciate the significance, but in Canton, Ohio, we live in a community that produced a president of the United States.
William McKinley was born in Niles, Ohio, but found his political footing in Canton, where he practiced law and married Ida Saxton, whose father founded our local paper, The Canton Repository.
McKinley has been described as the last Victorian president, succeeded by Theodore Roosevelt, a human fidget spinner who perfectly personified what came to be known as “The American Century.”
William McKinley was perfectly reflective of his Midwestern roots: moderate, dignified, gracious.
You could say he was, well, presidential.
But what does that mean, exactly? Is “presidential” one of those things you just recognize when you see it? Or does the definition change with the times?
Remember the good old days when “unpresidential” meant George W. Bush’s preemptive strike against English and Barack Obama’s tan suit and mom jeans?
When Ronald Reagan wore a tan suit, no one even noticed. Then again, it was the 1980s. Women wore shoulder pads the size of surfboards, and socks had toes, for Pete’s sake.
Truth be told, we’re not always sure what we mean by “presidential.”
People snickered at Jimmy Carter for carrying his own luggage, then resented the Reagans for their pomp and glamor.
We claimed to admire Gerald Ford for his “everyman” aura only then to make fun of it.
When Harry Truman became president, some people were aghast. The country came to love him, but Truman cursed and played poker. Today, he’d be lectured for it.
We must suppose that being presidential generally is defined to mean that the citizenry doesn’t feel the need to hold its collective breath every time the sun rises over the Potomac.
A bottomless inbox
“Presidential” encompasses courage, wisdom, dignity, seriousness, curiosity and a resolute and fierce defense of American principles.
There’s no way to run for president without having an ego, but to be presidential requires humility. The bottomless inbox of crises has made mincemeat out of even the most talented, so it’s no wonder that people who strut into the Oval Office end up practically crawling out.
Most Americans want and expect their president to be a person of gravitas, someone who makes us proud, who exemplifies the very best of the term “American,” who conducts himself or herself in a manner worthy of the office.
It’s why we fall into despair when a president falls short, be it personal misconduct or appalling public behavior.
Given the level of second-guessing that buffets every decision, being presidential also requires being able to take a punch. Years ago, political cartoons were the chief cause of irritation, but social media raised criticism to a level not seen in human history.
Being presidential requires far more self-discipline, forgiveness and forbearance than most of us will ever posses, even when the criticism is wrong, hurtful or just unfair.
Abraham Lincoln, who maintained his dignity despite being the most abused, persecuted and mistreated president ever, said: “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a men’s character, give him power.”
Those who can’t handle it will come undone.
— Reach Charita at 330-580-8313 or firstname.lastname@example.org