As a child, I watched a lot of cartoons. When I got a little older, I started asking a lot of questions for which there were no satisfactory answers. Why were cats the good guys in some movies and the bad guys in others? In American Tale, the mice were the good guys and the cats were evil. In the Aristocats, the cats were good. In the Secret of Nihm, the rats were the good guys. In Lady and the Tramp, the rats were bad. It has taken me a long time-an embarrassingly long time now that I think about it- to learn the truth. Most things in the world are not good or bad, they just are.
Most children are just children, most cats are just cats, most are just rats. Teachers, police officers, politicians, businessmen; they are just people, not inherently good or inherently bad. As the ever wise Obiwan Kenobi taught young Luke, “The truths we cling to depend a great deal on our point of view.” Moral characteristics are projected about by people and often reveal more about their point of view than the people they judge.
So, what does all this have to do with politics? I’ve been thinking a lot about the Democratic Party. This is a big year for them. They will be choosing the path that will either lead to the healing and stabilization of our country, or to further injury. Not being a Democrat myself, I choose to watch from the sidelines and hope for the best. I believe the best hope for the future of my country is that a moderate, pragmatic Democrat will get the nomination and soundly defeat Trump.
On Twitter, I have come across many progressives who have made tentative friendships with people like me who have a conservative viewpoint, but oppose Trump. We have an uneasy alliance. Sometimes, these people see Trump as an opportunity. He is an unpopular president and what better way to get an extremist progressive into office than by running an extremist against Donald Trump? They seek to capitalize on the division Donald Trump has created to further their own agenda. They use the argument, “If you don’t vote for our candidate, you will get Donald Trump for four more years!” This argument didn’t work for me when people tried to use Hillary Clinton to force me to vote for Trump and it won’t work in 2020 either.
People like me have tried to suggest to our Democratic allies that a moderate centrist would be the safest option; someone who will gain a broad coalition of support from the vast majority of the country. This kind of President could do a lot to unify the country, inspire trust in those manipulated by Trump, and re-establish some of the norms that have been damaged by an authoritarian Presidential style that has battered our republic for what will be four years. I could see myself voting for a Democratic President and having much warmer feelings toward Democratic ideas and policies in the long term if they took this path. In response to sharing these thoughts, zealous progressive firebrands have responded, “Shut up! You aren’t even in our party. You guys elected Donald Trump. Sit down.” Sigh. So much for the enemy of my enemy…..
It is easy for people who lean left, to see what we might call unrighteous dominion as the solution to unrighteous dominion right now. There are many who distrust anyone with a conservative perspective as ignorant, racist, greedy, or any number of other unsavory things. The conservatives have similar biases against the left. That is part of what got us into this mess in the first place. Like the cartoons I watched as a child, the parties try to paint cats as bad, rats as good, and vice versa to support their narratives. The truth is, we are mostly just Americans.
A wise man I happened to have voted for in 2016 reminded me of some of George Washington’s thoughts in his farewell address. I encourage all of my fellow Americans to read this inspired speech. This section about “party despotism” which we are seeing as extreme factions take over our two major parties. They attempt to force informed voters to ignore the faults in their candidates against their better judgments and insist upon “loyalty” even when the office holder is incompetent or dangerous to everyone. This spirit of party has badly infested the Republican Party under Donald Trump.
This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but, in those of the popular form, it is seen in its greatest rankness, and is truly their worst enemy.
The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.
George Washington’s Farewell Address
A few notes on this quote. First, he uses the phrase, “popular form.” He is referring specifically to populism. Populism is the kind of thing that we see when our leaders become more like entertainers or celebrities than public servants. We saw some of that with President Obama, but far more of it from Trump supporters. In my view, Trump’s obvious flaws require a more slavish devotion; a willingness to close one’s eyes to the facts under all circumstances lest you are tempted to find fault and fall into disloyalty. Populism has become an infection in both parties. One of the defining marks of populism is the dumbing down of the discourse, the focus on simple ideas and slogans, the demonization of “the top 3%,” foreign allies, foreign enemies, or racial or ethnic groups. “The white male,” “the illegal immigrant,” “the elites,” are all monikers given to dehumanize and scapegoat a segment of people. If someone else is to blame for our problems, we can avoid painful introspection. Our leaders should seek to lead our nation by informing the citizenry with factual information and persuasive arguments. A quick perusal of Trump’s latest tweets and speeches shows none of this. Instead we see a tendency to appeal to base instincts and reinforce simplistic falsehoods. That is the mark of a populist.
Much is said online and in the media about increasing voter turnout. This is a noble goal, but a far better one, in my view, is to increase the number of informed voters. George Washington emphasized in his address that an educated citizenry is essential to our republic. This is less about historical facts or even scientific theory and more about the ability to think critically about the issues and be able to converse about them with opposing parties. This requires that we put our identity as Americans over the various factions which make up the population. It also assumes that we will speak respectfully and with restraint when we converse with one another. This foundational element of civility in our national politics may prove to be the most indispensable virtue of our time. It is all but disappearing.
“The unity of government which constitutes you one people is also now dear to you……that you should cherish a cordial, habitual, and immovable attachment to it; accustoming yourselves to think and speak of it as of the palladium of your political safety and prosperity; watching for its preservation with jealous anxiety; discountenancing whatever may suggest even a suspicion that it can in any event be abandoned; and indignantly frowning upon the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest, or to enfeeble the sacred ties which now link together the various parts.
For this you have every inducement of sympathy and interest. Citizens, by birth or choice, of a common country, that country has a right to concentrate your affections. The name of American, which belongs to you in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of patriotism more than any appellation derived from local discriminations. With slight shades of difference, you have the same religion, manners, habits, and political principles. You have in a common cause fought and triumphed together; the independence and liberty you possess are the work of joint counsels, and joint efforts of common dangers, sufferings, and successes.”
Washington’s Farewell Address
Washington had a unique love for and commitment to the principles upon which our nation was founded. He had keen vision and insight into the perils which would threaten us. This government was founded on the idea that mankind could govern themselves, not be ruled by force and coercion. That idea is at risk as never before as each party flirts with and embraces coercion over persuasion, winning elections over winning trust, and appealing to the basest elements in our citizenry. Last election we saw the meddling of a hostile foreign government. This election, we must be on guard against foreign influence, especially from nations like Russia and China who seek to weaken our power on the global stage. Washington warned us about the dangers of foreign influences.
One other thing is worth mentioning. There is a drastic trend toward the marginalization of religion and religious ideas in our modern world. Jung wrote about the tendency of science to give a false sense of security and power to the human mind. We tend to think that we know more than we do and we get into trouble. The fact is, we need God. Whether or not we can prove his existence, we need him. As a culture, as a nation, as a world, humankind needs God. Our psyche is as dependent on the idea of God as our mortal body is on food; of this I have become convinced. George Washington and most of the founders of our nation agreed.
Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice ? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.
It is substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government.
George Washington’s Farewell Address
The fact that a large portion of our country’s religious leaders are ardent supporters of the President, who is possibly the most morally corrupt man to ever hold the office, is ominous in light of George Washington’s words. The wellbeing of our nation depends to a large extent on our religious commitment to truth and righteousness. Our unwillingness to hold our President to account for the damage he is doing to our Republic will have lasting consequences.
I take comfort that many times in our nation’s history, men and women have arisen to avert a disastrous course. There have been times of real trouble like the Civil War, the rise of industrial titan tyrants, the threat of communism, and two World Wars. More recently, there was the attempt of Richard Nixon to weaponize the CIA and the FBI to be his personal political henchmen. In these times of great testing and trial, there have been heroes that have stood up, spoken out, acted with integrity, marched at the battlefront, sacrificed more than I could ever understand. There have been countless self-interested masses that have lived and died, and they never quite understand that all that they have is because of those few. I refuse to be one of those people. I may never be a hero, but I can recognize heroism when I see it.
I see it in the faces of the leaders of the FBI that Trump fired because they chose loyalty to the constitution and the oath they swore over loyalty to a tyrant. I see it in the Twitter feeds of the retired military and intelligence leaders whose clearances have been revoked in retaliation for expressing their valid and heartfelt concerns publicly. I see in the steady and powerful resolve of women like Briget McCain who spoke truth to power today. I’m sure her father is proud. It isn’t easy to do the right thing, but it always matters. No matter what the sacrifice, doing the right thing is always worth it.
America may not deserve these heroes, but we have them, and God be praised. His mercy and blessings pour down from the heavens like rain upon the just and the unjust. He reaches out to us unworthy sinners all the day long. Darkest night does not hold back his light from us. In our dark moments, America, our God has not forsaken us. Let us not forsake Him! Let us remember the God whom we made King when George Washington refused the crown. The mighty shepherd! The meek and lowly Lord! Him alone will I trust. Him alone will I swear loyalty to. Blessed be his name!