Rodney K. Smith: Making music out of an ugly presidential campaign | Deseret News

This article was originally published by the Deseret News.


My children wanted to share their pop music with me, so they invited me to a concert at which their music was sung elegantly and played beautifully by a powerful orchestra. The experience was more impactful than anticipated.


I was reminded of Henry David Thoreau’s reflection: “When I hear music, I fear no danger. I am invulnerable. I see no foe. I am related to the earliest times, and to the latest.”

I felt a special attachment to my children and their times through their music. The music and the moment was filled with beauty and hope.


Many focus on the flaws of the rising generation. To hear their music, however, dispelled that myth in moments. Any generation that can embrace such beautiful music is one of hope. Listening to one another’s music dispels darkness.


I recently watched the football teams of the University of Utah and BYU play another cliffhanger. As a BYU fan, with a grandson who is an ardent Utah fan, I saw music in the game. There were errors on both sides, but I reveled in the grit and determination of the players, and the embrace of the coaches after the game. I left with a song in my heart. I was filled, not furious.


There is also music in the lives of our leading presidential candidates, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Their music can uplift us, if we will let it do so.


Trump has a certain music that inspires his campaign. He has led a remarkably successful life. As an impressionable young man, Trump believed his fun-loving brother, Freddy, ruined his life with an addiction to alcohol and tobacco. As detailed by the New York Times, Donald responded by vowing never to drink or smoke. He keeps that promise to this day. There is music in that kind of determination.


These phrases sound pretty normal to most Utahns. But people outside the Beehive State might struggle to know exactly what they mean.


In his first major foray into public life, Trump took a failed government project, the Wollman Ice-Skating Rink in New York’s Central Park, which was years behind schedule and $12 million over budget, according to Bloomberg Politics. In taking over the project, he promised it would be completed by Christmas, adding that he would not be “embarrassed.” Quieting doubters, he efficiently finished the project in time for Christmas, at no public cost.


Trump's music is determined and full of optimism. He believes he can do for America what he did for the Wollman Ice-Skating Rink. That is a song worth singing.


Hillary Clinton’s campaign is also musical. She has an unflagging service ethic bred into her soul as a young, devout Methodist growing up in the Midwest. In 1969, as senior class president at Wellesley College, she was elected by her peers to be Wellesley’s first student commencement speaker, breaking a longstanding tradition — a ceiling if you will. She agreed. The speech that followed reveals much about her desire to serve others in a very personal way.


Clinton's speech, according to NPR, followed one from a U.S. senator who spoke of poverty as a matter of reducing percentages. She rose, setting aside her speech for a moment, and demanded a mutual respect and a more caring, unified effort to make the impossible possible. To her, poverty was personal, about individual people suffering — not about percentages to be played with politically.


Clinton's depth of caring, and that very speech, led to her first job out of law school — a job with the aptly named Children’s Defense Fund. She eschewed the big dollars of corporate law firms to reach out and serve the most defenseless among us — children.

Clinton's service to the poorest among us is the music of a deeply caring soul. She's been a strong and caring advocate to those in need.


So, what are we left? We are left with a choice between two beautiful, if sometimes flawed, musical souls: One is a determined businessman, confident to the point of brashness, who sincerely believes he can solve our nation’s problems and thereby enrich all of us. He sees us skating by his first Christmas in office. The other is an equally beautiful and flawed soul, one who has broken one ceiling after another in an effort to serve the poorest among us under a banner of mutual respect. She sees us respecting and lifting the most defenseless among us, thereby unifying a great nation under a commitment to service.


Let’s stop embracing anger and fearing the foe and start singing the music, not the flaws, of the candidates.


That is our real choice, and it is a good one.

© 2020 by Rodney K. Smith