The Verdict of the People

Stump Speaking, George Caleb Bingham, 1853-54

Three-quarters of the American electorate is expected to watch tonight’s debate. Among these viewers, the vast majority have already decided who they’re going to vote for. A million voters, like myself, have already voted. Except for those few, those happy few undecided voters, who are likely not watching anyway, the rest of us are watching to root for our man. Of the four debates scheduled from now to Election Day, this is by far the most important. It will receive the largest viewership and set the tone for all subsequent ones. Supposedly, due to the pandemic, but also speaking to the enmity between the candidates, there will be no opening or closing handshakes. Maybe rooting is too benign a word for some people’s feelings about this event. Some people are watching, hoping for blood.

The County Election, George Caleb Bingham, 1852

There will be gotcha moments, either cannily sprung or simply pulled from an old can. People and pundits alike will seize upon these moments in the hours and days to come, blowing their significance all out of proportion and in the end signifying little. When all is said and done, few minds will be changed. Oh sure, networks will trot out examples of this fabled endangered species, the undecided voter and they will hold forth about what they liked and didn’t like, but in the end not announce their decision, because once they do they’ll lose access to the limelight and have to sit down and like the rest of us, just watch.

The Verdict of the People, George Caleb Bingham, 1854-55

How can anyone be still undecided? When you have two candidates that are so diametrically opposite from each other that any undecided voter would have to be schizophrenic to not be able to choose one from the other. I hold that the truly undecided are the same as the uncaring. Many in the end will not vote because of apathy and those that do will decide on Election Day. Be it the weather, what they had for breakfast that day or whatever, their vote is currently known only to God. Even they won’t know what it is until they enter the voting booth that day.

George Caleb Bingham was a 19th-century painter and obtained fame, at least around here. During his lifetime, he was known as the Missouri Artist. His best paintings feature ensembles, where each individual is distinctly captured and brought to life. He assembled these players on his large canvases, with individual studies that he would first sketch and then collect in his sketchbooks. He did this with the intention that one day he would use them in one of his larger, more lucrative works. His best works feature scenes from life on the Missouri River, but he also created a trio of paintings that detailed 19th-century political life. He dabbled unsuccessfully in politics, which inspired him to create these crowded scenes. In them runs the spectrum of human existence, from our loftiest of ideals to our basest desires. They show how little things have changed.

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