“What we need,” said Dale, “is a benevolent dictator.”
“Yeah,” I replied. “But I don’t remember reading about too many kind-hearted dictators in the history books.”
It was another one of those road trip conversations between my buddy, Dale Denning, and me. We had a lot of them over the years. It might have been going to an ECU football game in Greenville, or the occasional away game. It might have been going somewhere to play golf. Jeff, Jimmy, or others may have been with us. But often, it was just Dale and me, hitting the road. (Did I ever tell you about the time I rode with Dale to pick up his new boat? Let’s just say it involved running out of gas, a blown transmission, two highway patrolmen, and a potential mugging.)
When you were at the football game, you talked football. When you were on the golf course, you played and talked golf. But, it was during the getting there and coming back, that we talked. We would talk about family, church, politics, ECU sports, etc. A lot of the world’s problems were solved during those times on the road.
Back to the benevolent dictator. The conversation that day had turned, as it often did, to conditions in our country and its future. You don’t have to be a CPA, although Dale was one, to know that if our government keeps on accumulating debt at the rate we are doing, the U.S. is heading toward economic ruin. We were talking about how our politicians are unwilling to make the hard choices because they know the American people would vote them out of office if they did. When was the last time you heard a Washington politician say the words, “twenty trillion,” referring to the massive U.S. government debt? That’s about like a politician saying “consolidation” here in Sampson County.
That’s when Dale decided that the solution was a benevolent dictator. What we need, he thought, is that kindhearted, but stern, authority who could not be voted out of office. Since he, or she, could not be voted out of office, the benevolent dictator could make choices that are best for the country, without the fear of retribution by those possibly affected negatively in the voting booth. (But, like I told Dale, it’s hard to find a benevolent dictator. About the only ones I could think of were King David and King Solomon in the Bible. And they had their own problems.)
But the United States is a democracy. The best thing about a democracy is that the majority gets to decide its fate – majority rules. But the worst thing about a democracy is that the majority gets to decide its fate – majority rules. We can gripe and complain, but the truth is that the America we have now is the America that most of us want. The majority votes a politician into office. We complain and say that they are not doing what we elected them to do. But then we vote them in again. In 2016, the voters reelected 90 percent of the incumbents in Congress who ran for reelection.
On the road that day, Dale and I talked about how the U.S. could easily turn into a banana republic if something wasn’t done to put our economic house in order. I remember Dale saying that it might be cheaper for people to pay more taxes now than to pay for bodyguards, bulletproof cars and high priced security for their family in the future. This came from someone who was by no means a liberal, but from someone who I would have called a conservative realist.
Why I remember what Dale said during that particular road trip is easy. It was the last one we ever took. We had gone and met Jimmy to play golf at a course just below the state line, in Little River, S.C. It had been a good day and we were on our way back to Clinton. That night, five years ago this past week, Dale had a massive heart attack and passed away.
It was just a few months before his passing, I remember Dale saying, “Someday, I think I’m going to write a book. I don’t know if anyone will be interested in anything I have to say, but I may do it anyway.” I think it was Mark Twain who said, “I am the sum total of all the people I have met.” I suppose you might say that these columns I have the privilege to write are the sum total of all the people I have read or met. So, Dale, people are often reading you, even if you don’t get the byline.
Mac McPhail, raised in Sampson County, lives in Clinton and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.