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Thursday, October 19, 2017

Summer’s lease hath all too short a date, Shakespeare says. But the Bard died 400 years ago and never saw the burning summer of 2016.

I’m not even talking about the weather yet.

As August exits, two political hurricanes, named Hillary and Donald, will hit landfall to slam a thousand towns. It’s not clear which gale force is strongest. What’s clear is, the electorate is cut apart along bright lines of gender, race and class, never more polarized.

Donald Trump, new to the Republican Party, knows their dirty games like he’s been running all his life. Richard Nixon would be proud. Mocking Hillary Clinton as a “bigot” is a bit much from the man who trash-talked Mexicans and Muslims.

Yet the unforgettable presidential campaign of 2016 is young. The worst is yet to come. Elections get underway on Labor Day. That’s the tradition in American politics, with state fairs across the Midwest and pig roasts in the South. (I’ve covered one in Virginia.) Those running for office once stood on tree stumps to speak, making Abraham Lincoln loom even larger. That was a “stump speech.”

This prospect is remarkable — a politically poised woman running against a crude, obstreperous man on his first election, who gives no clue what he’ll say next. It seems more out of season because we Americans like to like presidents.

Both Clinton and Trump have severe negative ratings. Fewer than half of those polled liked either one, with Trump’s 63 percent several points worse than Clinton’s. Some say she’s lucky to have Trump, but her score is nothing to celebrate. Fervent supporters are great — which both candidates have — but it’s hard to win over people that hate you, before and after Election Day. Governing will be a challenge for either one.

It’s worth remembering the media covering the candidates — the chattering class — doesn’t like either of them. Clinton and Trump return the favor and keep the press distant and disrespected. (Reporters covering George W. Bush found him genial, which helped him win against Al Gore.) Neither likes to be questioned. It’s bad flying inside the eyes of the hurricanes.

The fall will bring a new president. But what else?

We long for autumn air and light, apples and cider instead of lemonade, ready to pick the garden’s last cosmos and zinnias. Soccer in our future. Baseball and football dramas. Weather turning.

Speaking of that, quarterback Colin Kaepernick unleashed a tempest by refusing to stand with San Francisco 49ers for the national anthem. That’s a controversy worth a real conversation. Having lived in San Francisco and Baltimore, where “The Star-Spangled Banner” lyrics were written, I felt it hit home.

Francis Scott Key, the lawyer-poet who witnessed the British bombardment of Baltimore from the water and wrote the stirring verses the next day, was handsome, rich and clever. By rich, I mean one of the wealthiest landowners in Maryland – with land worked by enslaved people. He later advised President Andrew Jackson, a ruthless slaveowner at Hermitage plantation. And his brother-in-law, Chief Justice Roger Taney, was considered the most racist chief justice in antebellum America.

First, it takes a quarterback to command the attention of white folks. It takes a quarterback with a black identity to think of such a thing — a nonviolent public protest against police brutality by not standing for the flag and the awkward anthem Baltimore ladies fought to name the national anthem. Back in 1931, Congress surrendered.

Let it be gone. I sit with Kaepernick in spirit, past and present.

Key embodies the “Slave Power” that lost a civil war for “the land of the free.” He’s on the wrong side of the work ahead to further race relations on troubled city streets, just like Baltimore’s.

Sure, let’s honor the flag and the seamstress, Mary Pickersgill, who made it in her house by the harbor. There’s always “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” or “America the Beautiful” as a new anthem superior to Key’s. Did I mention the writers were women?

Lest I forget, burning barometers, near 100 degrees for days straight on the East Coast and Florida, oppressed our puckish spirits.

So, if the Bard asked me, “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”

I’d say: “Only if it’s a hurricane.”

To find out more about Jamie Stiehm and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit Creators.com.