Choose your circus


Last updated 10/3/2023 at 10:17am

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A friend of mine wore a T-shirt the other day exhorting us to "Keep Calm and Circus On."

It struck me as an apt slogan for the times, for surely we are living in a circus - though perhaps not the kind my friend adores. Our republic is careening in a clown car toward a presidential election rematch between Donald Trump and Joe Biden that a substantial plurality of Americans - or a clear majority depending on how you look at the data - don't want. A recent NBC poll shows Biden with a net favorability rating of 39 percent positive and 49 percent negative, with Trump at 35 percent positive and 54 percent negative.

Trump seemingly has an insurmountable lead over any Republican Party rival, despite the fact that he will likely spend most of the 2023-24 campaign season in court under a mountain of indictments - some perhaps spurious or over-charged, and some legitimate and very serious. The Democratic Party is apparently sticking with Biden - or is stuck with him - despite disqualifying failures in Afghanistan and at the border, and the mounting evidence that he's in no kind of shape to do the job until he's 86.

So, we're going to be trapped in a devil's choice between whoever we perceive as the lesser of two evils - or, as my late mother would say, the evil of two lessers. I'm out. Once again, I will write in Jim Webb - Marine veteran, assistant secretary of the Navy in the Reagan Administration, and, for a flashing, hopeful moment, a 2016 Democratic Party candidate for president. Call it a protest vote if you will - I just want to vote for someone I would actually like to see as president.

The clown car swerved to avoid a government shutdown over the weekend, but there's nothing to stop it from rolling around again in November for another show. From fire-alarm pullers on the left to gurning obstructionist performance artists on the right, work that has serious implications across the globe is turned into a clown show. But maybe that's unfair - to clowns. Clowns are actually entertaining.

I fear I am too much of a news junkie to just turn away from the spectacle, even though I'm sure it would be healthier to do so. We can't pretend that the circus doesn't produce consequences - it does, and those consequences may be significant after 2024. But it's not like any of us are going to move the needle merely by paying attention. If we're looking for answers to vexing questions, we're not serving ourselves well by turning to a system that is increasingly incapable of delivering solutions to anything at all.

In fact, the more attention, clicks, and dollars we send off, the more spectacle we get. It doesn't shape outcomes, it merely pumps up the volume.

We have to be careful not to get so discouraged by all of this that we become mired in cynicism. Nugget columnist Craig Rullman recently kicked up a quote from the late poet and novelist Jim Harrison that serves as a valuable reminder:

"We are drenched in cynicism, psychologisms, explanations, but life is still there, its essence quite beyond spin, its cycle as surely set as it always has been."

Ah, yes... real life.

We each have our own circus to attend to, don't we? Life can get pretty wild all on its own. We're more fortunate than most in that what we do in what remains a small and tight-knit community can really mean something - our actions here in Sisters can affect our lives and the lives of others in positive and noticeable ways. We can choose our circus - and it can be a lot more fun than a political one. Volunteers build houses and trails, they teach and mentor, they promote art and athletics. They clean things up and sort things out.

My own particular circus is Sisters Folk Festival, and we had a heckuva good time under the big top last weekend. I believe I'll shut off the national noise for a bit and savor the memories as I "Keep Calm and Circus On."

Author Bio

Jim Cornelius, Editor in Chief

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Jim Cornelius is editor in chief of The Nugget and author of “Warriors of the Wildlands: True Tales of the Frontier Partisans.” A history buff, he explores frontier history across three centuries and several continents on his podcast, The Frontier Partisans. For more information visit


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