Why Graham Crackers Give Me Hope For Trump

05/07/2017 10:12 am ET Updated May 08, 2017

Donald Trump’s election inspired a great deal of shock, horror, and disgust among liberal voters and even Washington, D.C. insiders who feel as though electing Donald Trump represents the "unprecedented." Waking up on November 9th felt surreal for many including Macklemore who wrote the song “Wednesday Morning” expressing concern for his daughter in the "mad world" he woke up to. His sentiments struck a chord with people who felt like The United States had just driven off a cliff and was free-falling, without much hope for a tree branch to catch it on the way down. I too was concerned, and remain concerned after the first 100 days, but something unusual gives me hope. After reading Adee Braun's article about the obscure history of graham crackers, I feel a little better about Donald Trump.

The short version of the history is this:

The graham cracker is the namesake legacy of a radical 19th century evangelical minister named Sylvester Graham. Graham believed that sexual desire was detrimental to Americans' health and morals, and that America's rich pioneer diet was to blame. According to Graham, the way to eliminate sexual desire was to adopt austere lifestyle changes such as exercise, bathing, vegetarianism, and plenty of whole grains. He railed against mass production, masturbation, and materialism.

His movement was quite popular, with his whole wheat flour showing up on store shelves and Oberlin College adopting his diet. Spices were off limits to such an extent that Oberlin even fired a professor for putting pepper on his food. Graham's movement inspired devoted followers known as Grahamites, and he believed he would live on in American history as a celebrated reformer. He envisioned that his house would become a shrine after his death.

Now Graham is hardly remembered at all, and sexual desire is alive and well. His namesake cracker, the history of which is seldom discussed, is a highly industrialized cinnamon and sugar children's snack frequently used as a vehicle for the iconic chocolate and marshmallow s'mores. His house is a restaurant in Massachusetts called Sylvester's. Apparently, they serve plenty of "Sweet Stuff," meats, and spicy dishes, and "Almost everything on [their] menu has a GLUTEN FREE ALTERNATIVE" (emphasis from the website).

I'm not suggesting that Trump's presidency is equivalent to Sylvester Graham's movement, but I do draw amusement and hope from the idea of a Trump legacy as ironic as Sylvester Graham's. The history of graham crackers reminded me that many radical movements in history have spread and passed away only to have meaningless, harmless, or ironic legacies. The New York Times asked readers how Trump’s first 100 days changed them and came up with many answers to this effect.

Most importantly, the history of Graham cracker’s demonstrates that the legacy of a leader is not decided by the individual, but by society and by posterity. Americans have the power to decide what kind of legacy The Trump Presidency will have. Will we pull together to respond intelligently and bolster the environmental and humanitarian causes that matter to us, or will we fall apart, paralyzed by infighting and ill will? Will major donors and advocates put their support behind the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and other organizations which protect civil rights and make democracy resilient? Perhaps we can start with Butler University’s new resistance course on Trump.

From slavery, to witch hunts, to Japanese internment, I'm encouraged that America has survived a lot over the course of history. This Washington Post article assesses what kind of threat the alt-right poses and leads me to believe it is neither insignificant, nor insurmountable. It mentions America's historical precedent for xenophobic, racist movements which seem to wax and wane with periods of advancement followed by periods of regression.

Ironically, perhaps, Trump's election appeared to galvanize many of his opponents who may be inspired to make his legacy the opposite of his agenda. Hope for the resistance can be seen in the estimated 4,721,500 marchers who marked the first day of his presidency by joining 673 women's marches around the world. More than 1 million of those marchers flooded capital cities in the United States, with The Women's March on Washington likely drawing a significantly greater crowd than Trump's inauguration.

Trump tower reminds me of an ostentatious Versailles or a dictator's paradise such as those seen in Dictator Style: Lifestyles of the World's Most Colorful Despots. If Trump Tower someday becomes a center for human rights, a home for refugees, or a Veteran's hospital, perhaps America will have responded appropriately to his presidency.

It is my sincere hope that we will not be defeated and paralyzed by Trump's hatred, but that we will rise and respond by taking action that will lead to a resounding, ironic Trump legacy of a nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

CONVERSATIONS