Washington, Meet Washington: How to Make Politics Great Again
The acrimony of partisan politics intensifies as the struggle for power careens through the media as another election approaches over the horizon. Nothing seems to be immune from the fray. We’ve come to expect political recriminations in the news and on college campuses, but now it is commonplace in professional sports, businesses and even elementary schools.
It’s all too easy to point at the other party and their flawed candidate and declare they’re to blame. But such a facile explanation misses the truth of a critical reality: we are no longer the America of past generations. Our nation has crossed a cultural boundary and it seems like there’s no turning back.
So what’s changed? In my mind, it can be boiled down to three things:
- The elevation of politics over country, destroying the concept of a loyal minority.
- The loss of patriotism, poisoning the love of country and turning it into the pursuit of power.
- The revision of the American story by removal of the Founders’ vision for their new nation.
If we want to make politics great again, we will have to address these matters. And there’s no better place to turn than to the Founding Father of our nation, George Washington.
So first, if we want to make politics great again, we will have to put our country over politics. Washington in his classic Farewell Address argued that an excess of partisan spirit must be avoided just as great care must be exercised lest a warming fire, erupts into flame consuming everything. We might consider if our politics has set our nation on fire, rather than warming our national pride. The disagreements between majority and minority parties should move our national concerns, but not destroy our commitment to the nation.
Secondly, if we want to make politics great again, we will have to recover patriotism which loves country more than it loves power. In his Farewell, Washington asserted that leaders in a free country should confine themselves to constitutional spheres. This is because when one branch encroaches on another, the consolidation of power creates despotism. In fact, he claimed the human love of power tends to make us abuse it. In his mind history shows that political power often invades the power of another branch, which requires checks and balances, the separation of power and being on our guard. Do our politics cause us to love power more than freedom? The love of country leads to the control of power to prevent its abuse. Despotism inevitably results with the loss of liberty.
Thirdly, if we want to make politics great again, we will have to rediscover our Founders’ vision for America. Sadly, school curricula too often criticize the Founders as those who used their power to oppress women, slaves and poor neighbors. If the textbooks aren’t blatantly hostile, they give them short shrift and expunge their spiritual and political aspirations. We do well to consider again the Father of our Country. Washington insisted that foremost among the tendencies that lead to political success is religion and morality.
Washington famously claimed in his Farewell that one cannot be a patriot if he works to overthrow religion and morality for they are the great pillars of human happiness that support the duties of citizens. He reasoned from experience that national morality can scarcely prosper if the morality taught by religion was excluded from society. For Washington, without these “pillars of happiness”, no one should be surprised if our nation collapses under the weight of unmitigated political warfare.
To make politics great again, we will have to reaffirm the Founders’ belief that America’s freedoms are closely bound to faith in God and faithfulness to His Truth. In Washington’s First Inaugural Address he expressed it this way, “… the propitious smiles of Heaven, can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right, which Heaven itself has ordained.”
As American people, we’ve heard many political slogans like “Hope and Change”, “Stronger Together” and “Make America Great Again”. But do we ever hear Washington’s political slogan. It clearly was “the sacred fire of liberty”. He said as he first took office as the new President, “… the preservation of the sacred fire of liberty, and the destiny of the Republican model of Government, are justly considered as deeply, perhaps as finally staked, on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.”
If Washington was right, clearly a lot is riding on this experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people. Washington needs to rediscover Washington, before it’s too late. That’s the way we’ll make America’s politics great again.