If George Washington were among us, he would call us out, not as Republicans and Democrats, not at right, left, or wingless, not as “enemies of the people,” but as “friends and fellow citizens.”
Here’s what Washington would say, speaking candidly on our moral fiber, threats, and shortcomings, because we are “entitled to his confidence.”
Washington would say national security, at home and abroad, depends on “unity” as much as limiting government. He would warn against those who divide us, put affection for party above country, or stay too long in power.
In so many words, he would observe that we have more in common with each other than different and that we must see this to survive.
He would note independence and liberty are like a job, something you have to go to every day, constantly work on, resolve to care about, and give yourself to, never abandon.
Washington would warn, as Dwight D. Eisenhower – another patriot –did, against an oversized, misdirected, preoccupied, or out-of-touch military. He would caution about ulterior motives, noting they undermine the nation’s strength, liberty, and security.
When fellow Americans fault the nation, he would caution we must give ourselves time to get things right. Washington would note that trial and error, mistake, and correction are innate to any republic, and allowing truth to unfold, like flower petals over time, is essential for the survival of liberty.
He would note that self-correction requires adherence to the Constitution. No other means for righting wrongs can supersede those processes and rights. Violence for any reason is wrong.
He would warn against polarization and pulverization of the people’s will or balkanizing it for party advantage since dividing ourselves into mutually despising factions is self-defeating.
While he would not condemn parties outright, he would caution about what moves them, namely a quest for power which justifies revenge at the expense of liberty. “Alternate domination” by one party and then the other is still “a frightful despotism.”
Washington’s concerns would include worrying about overreaching parties, which “gradually incline the minds of men to seek security…in absolute power,” that is, in one party, namely despotism.
Fearing an executive who ignores judicial rulings and legislative prerogatives impairs the First, Second, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Tenth Amendments, he would warn that “checks and balances” must be real, “separation of powers” necessarily involving willful self-limitation and respect.
Then, he would get serious, saying a republic that loses its way morally and resists religion cannot endure. He would remind us the entire experiment is built on the expectation of a moral society, which means religious fidelity and understanding that the universe is God’s creation.
Specifically, he would say: “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion, and morality are indispensable,” adding, “in vain, would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness…”
Put differently, even a “mere politician…ought to respect and to cherish” morality and religion, as “a volume…could not trace all their connections to private and public felicity.”
Challenging us, he would say: “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?”
He would admonish us. “Let us with caution…indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion,” because “whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience…forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail…in exclusion of religious principle.”
Washington would condemn profligate leaders, those who spend more than they take in, reversing the understanding that spending and taxes should be minimal, instead justifying more spending with more taxes. He would gravely intone about national debt, as well as foreign entanglements.
He would explain that foreign nations seek to influence our actions to their benefit. He would remind us that “real patriots” may be treated as “odious” for “resisting intrigues,” but this is part of patriotism – as opposed to factionalism.
He would warn against those who might profit personally or politically by sidling up to foreign nations, as they become “tools and dupes” and “surrender” American sovereignty to others.
Finally, in parting, he would demonstrate humility, decline invitations to power, refer to us as “friends,” seek forgiveness for his errors, and encourage us to think harder and love the nation.
How do we know all this? Because that is exactly what George Washington, the Father of our Nation, leader of the fight for liberty, presider at the Constitutional Convention, and self-limiting two-term president did – in his 1796 Farewell Address.
Like Lincoln and Reagan, Washington asked us to listen for and follow the good counsel of our “better angels.” Like TR, FDR, Truman, Kennedy, Carter, Reagan, and George HW Bush, Washington asked us not just to put nation over party but to model that conviction, to live and serve as if our example determined the entire cause. Our obligation is still to hear him – and act.
Robert Charles is a former Assistant Secretary of State under Colin Powell, former Reagan and Bush 41 White House staffer, attorney, and naval intelligence officer (USNR). He wrote “Narcotics and Terrorism” (2003), “Eagles and Evergreens” (2018), and is National Spokesman for AMAC.
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