Whatever happens Tuesday, we are all in. I am talking, of course, about Election Day and those of us who have voted or will vote to elect the 45th president of the United States, an unbroken tradition dating back to 1789 and the election of George Washington to the first of two terms in office.

There was early voting of a sort back then, too. The election began Dec. 15, 1788 and concluded on Jan. 19, 1789. The 69 electoral representatives from the states cast their votes on Feb. 4, 1789. It was the first and last time voters agreed unanimously on a president. There were no national political parties, and Washington ran unopposed.

John Adams bested 10 other vice presidential candidates. By 1804, Congress would pass the 12th Amendment and ever after, voters cast a single vote and no longer divided their votes among presidential and vice presidential candidates.

Portrait of John Adams by John Trumbull, c. 1792-93.
Portrait of John Adams by John Trumbull, c. 1792-93. Credit: U.S. Government

Adams is the patron saint of vice presidential hopefuls. He was the first vice president to be elected president (1797-1801), succeeding Washington, and the first to occupy the executive mansion that we now call the White House. He also was the first incumbent president to be voted out of office, suffering the indignity of losing to his own vice president, Thomas Jefferson (1801-09). Only after Jefferson left office did the two men rekindle their friendship.

Adams lived to see his son, John Quincy Adams, sworn in as the country’s sixth president (1825-29). The son also was a one-term president, losing to Andrew Jackson, the father of the Democratic Party.

Abraham Lincoln was the first Republican Party candidate to be elected president.

Portrait of Andrew Jackson by Ralph E.W. Earl, c. 1835.
Portrait of Andrew Jackson by Ralph E.W. Earl, c. 1835. Credit: U.S. Government

Why does all this matter in the age of Wikipedia? One reason is that Wiki presidential histories are not what most Americans of voting age are reading. History matters in no small part because it gives us a fuller appreciation of the past and understanding who we are today as we contemplate the future.

I don’t believe in flag-waving “we are the greatest country on earth” proclamations. There are too many other wonderful countries I’ve visited to lead me to assert some claim of superiority. The United States is, however, the longest running constitutional republic without a monarchy in history.

These last two weeks, the residents of Bexar County broke early voting records day after day. Will a new standard be set Tuesday? We invite you to stay close to the Rivard Report website and social media (Facebook and Twitter @rivardreport) for vote results throughout the evening as tallies roll in locally and from Maine to California.

You’ll have to stay up awhile to find out who will occupy the White House, represent the 23rd District in Congress, fill out the Bexar County legislative delegation, wear the Bexar County sheriff’s badge, what school district bonds will pass, and what judges will occupy the bench.

It’s hard for me to buy the logic of those who say they will sit out the presidential election and, in all likelihood, voting, period.

As some readers know, I joined my two brothers and two sisters in mourning the loss of our mother last week. Last year, in a single span of eight days in August, Monika, my wife, and I both lost our fathers. That led to a meaningful Saturday night family gathering for dinner, our Dia de los Muertos altar nearby.

We gathered at our home with Oma, 84-year-old Hilde Maeckle, a German immigrant and the family matriarch, to celebrate the November birthday of Nicolas, our oldest son. Oma’s only son and my wife’s older brother, Mike Maeckle, a resident of Whitefish, MT, was there, too. Mike happens to be staying with us while in Texas, calling on customers for the sign company that employs him as a national sales representative.

Nicolas and his younger brother, Alex, also present at the dinner, have lived privileged lives and they know it. Both are making the most of it. Both accompanied us to the polls as little boys and both vote regularly as adults. Both are civically engaged in their neighborhood and in the city. Some of it was parenting, and some of it was learning critical thinking skills (and history) from their many good teachers.

Nicolas graduated from the School of Architecture at UT-Austin and then the Graduate School of Design at Harvard. Alex, after two years in a music conservatory and part of a year studying at the Sorbonne in Paris, graduated with a history degree from Texas State University and now teaches full-time at a local high school while enrolled in Trinity University’s Master of Education Leadership program.

Mike Maeckle is a hard-working family man with a high school education who self identifies as a Republican. He set the dinner conversation agenda by declaring his refusal to vote in this presidential election, and then threw gasoline on the fire by declaring how a college education is highly overrated compared to learning life skills “on the streets.”

I felt compelled to disagree and to do so with authority. Alas, I was on kitchen clean-up duty and reduced to observer. No one seemed to notice my absence. No matter. I listened with pride as our two sons took turns articulating with passion and reason their strong disagreement with his decision to not vote and his misguided belief that a college education was of little value.

Poor Oma sat uncomfortably by, saying little, ducking the crossfire with finesse and tact. Relatively little wine had been consumed and voices were not raised (much) and, thankfully, no feelings were hurt.

I paused from my dish washing duty to tell Mike that, in my own experience, reading deeply takes you into worlds you will otherwise never visit. My friends with a gift for mathematics and science tell me the same thing. I wish Mike, like me, would try college as an adult and learn what a pleasure learning can be when one is ready.

Our dinner was a microcosm of our society 227 years after Washington first was elected. Where we find ourselves in 2016 is not, in my opinion, a particularly good moment in the history of the republic. We are a democracy in desperate need of regeneration.

Dinner at the Maeckle-Rivard house, thankfully, ended amicably. Unlike Adams and Jefferson, we will not suffer years of frayed fraternal or family bonds.

To take the last word (the privilege of those who write): lifelong learning is wonderful, and so is voting and civic engagement. They are, I believe linked. It’s as important for people of all socio-economic, race, and ethnic groups, and all political persuasions to vote. Texas would be a far healthier state for all its residents if it were to become a two-party state no longer artificially controlled by one party’s gerrymandering.

The start of a new day begins with everyone who has not yet voted turning out Tuesday to participate in a majestic event that continues this country’s long record of choosing its leaders and experiencing the peaceful transition of power.

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Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard, co-founder of the San Antonio Report, is now a freelance journalist.