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The year 2020 – and the subsequent lockdowns and quarantines that came with it – meant that a lot of people had more time at home to try their hands at something new. I was not an exception. A few months in, my wife gave me the gift of an online class that taught me how to make pizza from scratch.

Cooking is not natural for me. It relaxes many would-be cooks, but it has quite the opposite effect on me. It’s stressful; I have to remain hyper-focused and I am quite exact with my measurements.

Making a dough that is soft enough to shape yet strong enough to shake into the pizza stone in our scorching-hot oven has been a hurdle. I’m much improved, mind you; but most of the time the pizza process – while it still tastes delicious – results in my wife and I eat an amoeba-shaped pizza dough.

During my last pizza-making adventure, the same stresses emerged and erupted in a mini-bit of silent fury. As I shook the pizza onto the stone in the oven, the dough once again lost its shape into an irredeemable non-pizza. My wife came up with a brilliant idea, though. The dough was still soft enough to re-shape, and we turned the pizza into a calzone. After we heated it, we evolved it further by cutting it into bite-sized pieces – our very own Pizza Rolls!

Dough-faced Politics

In a previous article, I referenced Franklin Pierce as the recipient of the new “least memorable president” award.

The fourteenth president was the second in a line of three commanders-in-chief who failed to hold the United States together as it spiraled ever closer towards the Civil War. Pierce, a career politician from New Hampshire, was often accused of being a “doughface” – a northerner with southern sympathies. He believed that the abolition movement – and not slavery – threatened the unity of the country. His administration’s policies and positions echoed this belief.

The Pierce administration alienated his fellow northerners and other abolitionists with his enforcement of the Compromise of 1850, which included the infamous Fugitive Slave Act. He also supported and signed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which led to a series of violent confrontations in a period known as Bleeding Kansas. After failing to win the re-nomination of his party in 1856, Pierce’s popularity continued to suffer during the Civil War years as he became a vocal critic of Abraham Lincoln.

The Tether

Franklin Pierce’s inability to unite the ever-dividing country is a cautionary tale for leaders of all types. As a Northerner, he could have helped translate some of the South’s less immoral concerns (i.e. not defend slavery, but rather speak on state vs. federal power) to an audience of his neighbors. As a Democrat, he could have helped promote unity and compromise to the members of his party who dominated the South rather than continuing the trend of kicking the “slavery can” down the road to future presidents.

But he didn’t.

President Pierce kept the fire of disunion ablaze.

The stakes are lower in my pizza-making, of course; but now, a failed pizza presents a new opportunity – calzones, bite-sized pizza rolls, or a good new-fashioned amoeba-shaped pie. I’m not a cook, but I now use that as an opportunity to create.

“Doughface” was an insult and an indication of possible future failure. But it could have been an opportunity for leadership.

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