ONE NATION? An assessment and call to action
By: Dave Richwine
April 12, 2021
Hat Tip. Rip McIntosh
Following the drafting of the Constitution in 1787, a Mrs. Elizabeth Powel queried Benjamin Franklin to this effect: What have we got, a monarchy or a republic? His reply put responsibility for America’s future success squarely on our shoulders as citizens. It was: “A republic, Madam, if you can keep it.” Unfortunately, 245 years later a deep schism exists between two basic factions in America: those citizens with time-honored and time-proven uniquely American values versus those with decidedly un-American values who would make us into a socialist state. Unimpeachable evidence of that lies in the events of the presidential election of 2020. If we are to keep our democratic republic, “We, the People” must act, wisely and responsibly. Our future depends on the character of the individual American citizen as evidenced by our morality, intellect, strength, patriotism, drive and action. Speaking on the responsibilities of citizens in a democratic republic, Theodore Roosevelt noted “Courage, intellect, all the masterful qualities, serve but to make a man more evil if they are merely used for that man’s own advancement, with brutal indifference to the rights of others. It speaks ill for the community if the community worships these qualities and treats their possessors as heroes regardless of whether the qualities are used rightly or wrongly.” Evidence abounds that many in positions of public responsibility are using those valued characteristics wrongly, and many of the rest of us are “worshipping” those who are using good qualities for self-serving purposes. It appears that in 21st Century America we have descended to the challenging condition described by Rudyard Kipling in his poem “If”: “. . .If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools, or watch the things you gave your life to, broken, and stoop and build ‘em up with worn out tools . . .” It is time to “stoop and build” if we are to remain “one Nation under God” — the democratic republic to which we pledge allegiance. The bedrock upon which America is based is being ground to sand in a kind of a socio-political tectonic plate shift. Our traditional American values and our moral underpinnings are being attacked from many directions, among them: malfeasance at the highest levels of our heretofore most trusted parts of government; lawsuits and an impeachment undertaking based on lies; responsible parties languishing unscathed (to date); and the media writ large has abandoned its essential role of providing the populace with facts clearly separated from opinion. Instead we see and hear “news” heavily laden with one-sided political opinion. In the constantly churning cyber world we seek truth but find mostly mirages constructed by cyber nymphs and delivered in the name of people of substance to seek believability and add to the chaos. We are at a strategic inflection point, and we can choose our path. We can either continue the slide away from the moral absolutes of truth and into ever-shifting amoral morass of contemporary relativity wherein values are redefined to fit the moment and history is rewritten to fit the fancies of those who would change America. Or we can reemphasize the values and principles upon which America accomplished its unequaled growth and success. We the people hold the keys to renewal. High character counts because it facilitates trust. As Mr. George Schultz recently opined in his 100 year birthday review of the most important things he has learned in his life: “Trust is the coin of the realm”. Trust is the fundamental element in all human relationships. It is essential in all aspects of governance. Trust is based upon commonly observed, understood and shared values as well as the operating principles which stem from them. It is the base upon which our nation of laws rests. It is enabled, fostered, nurtured and taught among people of integrity and high character. It is often confounded by the nature of the internet, errors made in the rush to get a “scoop”, and plain dishonesty. This has led to events over the past four years which clearly indicate trust is waning in our politics and in other public activities at the national, state and local levels. We are suffering for it and we must do what we can to set things right. Citizens of character are the essential elements comprising our nation. In his epochal address to the French political and educational leaders noted above, President T. R. Roosevelt remarked on the responsibilities of citizens in a democratic republic. He stated the success of this most gigantic of all possible social experiments called a democratic republic depends entirely upon the character of the individual citizens. In his words: “above mind and above body stands character—the sum of those qualities which we mean when we speak of a man’s force and courage, of his good faith and sense of honor. . .[it] must show itself in the man’s performance both of the duty he owes himself and of the duty he owes the state.” That character must be high, and the character of the leaders must be that much higher. In Roosevelt’s remarks one finds the elements of character to be self governance – – the drive to meet the challenges of life daily, carry our own weight, and to make a positive contribution to community; strength – -moral,intellectual, and physical; patriotism – – born of a thorough understanding of our history and of our enduring values and principles – – and exhibited as a commitment both to live according to those principles and to teach them to others; and action – – appropriate for the times and proportionate to one’s level of influence – – to ensure those values and principles obtain. And what of those oft-mentioned, seldom-defined values? Those which undergird our principles, contribute to the character traits above and guide us as we simultaneously exercise our right to pursue Happiness and take on the Constitution’s charge to form a more perfect union. Foremost is Honor, a keen sense of ethical conduct; Courage, the moral, mental and physical drive to act ethically and effectively in all circumstances; Commitment, a strong sense of our Founders’ “all in” dedication to the success of our Nation. Other values which contribute to strong citizens and leaders include but are not limited to integrity, honesty, humility, industry, responsibility, accountability, cheerfulness and respect. These we expect to see in our elected leaders whose responsibility it is to set the proper example for us at all times. . .to “walk the talk”. Shakespeare’s “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark” describes what we face in America today. I fear our elected and appointed leaders on several levels from local to national have let us down – – through acts charitably classed as honest mistakes for which we must allow; but more accurately and more often, through malfeasance driven by what appears to be a desire to fundamentally change the nature of our democratic republic and make it into a socialist state. As a result of this assault on our values and moral underpinnings, we are at a watershed moment, a strategic inflection point, in our history. It is most clearly reflected in the events associated with the 2020 presidential election, an exercise of the rights of citizenship. Rights of citizens carry with them responsibility. So it is with voting. The right to vote for our leaders in our democratic republic is also a responsibility entrusted to each and every citizen of the nation. This relationship is fundamental to who we are as a nation. . . a sacred right, a solemn responsibility . . . an essential fiber in the tapestry that is our society. In execution, it demands high character both in those who vote and especially in those who administer the system and count the votes. The events associated with the 2020 presidential election indicate that the integrity of our electoral process has been seriously injured and that tapestry weakened. Apparent efforts, substantiated by countless affidavits of honest and honorable witnesses, to create a false impression of the will of our people destroys the trust our citizens must have in the sanctity of the electoral process. The Texas lawsuit recently filed and supported by other states petitioned the United States Supreme Court to address these concerns. The petition was denied. If the Supreme Court’s decision not to hear this intra-national suit was made out of a fear of potential civil unrest – – rioting, looting, and arson, as found recently in cities like Portland Oregon–then our national character is called into question. Activities are either legal or they are not. If they are illegal and physically or morally injurious, they must be identified and stopped at once else they grow as a cancer in the body of our society. Adherence to the rule of law is a fundamental tenet of our society. Those who ignore or abrogate the law are further grinding away at the bedrock upon which our national society rests. Failure to defend the electoral process from illegal efforts to gain political power, and failure to identify, arrest and prosecute those terrorizing local communities based upon some bastardized notion of freedom of speech and expression, will rot the fabric of our society. These activities, in particular, disrespect and disregard the rights of others. They materially and psychologically impede ongoing efforts to achieve the first goal in the preamble to the constitution: to form a more perfect union. Recent events reveal evidence that dark forces of decidedly unAmerican character are at work as described above to fundamentally alter the nature of our nation and that union. Those forces must be met with strength. We must not shirk or shrink from this task! And our efforts should include “all hands”. Elected and appointed officeholders, look in the mirror; ask yourself three questions: do you fully understand the standards expected of you by our founders and by the people who have put you into office? are you living up to those standards, are you a servant leader? And do you keep faith with those you serve by subjecting yourself to the same conditions you create for them? As Thomas Jefferson remarked: “If we are to guard against ignorance and remain free, it is the responsibility of every American to be informed.” So, we citizens must make a similar analytical assessment. Are we each “self governing”– knowledgeable of and committed to fulfilling our responsibilities as citizens? Are we morally, intellectually and physically strong? Do we know enough about our history – – how our nation was founded, the values and principles upon which it is based – – and do we live those values daily and teach them to others? Is our educational system teaching them as they were ordained? Can we realistically call ourselves patriotic? It’s much more than just waving a flag. Are we active at our chosen level of engagement whether it be in the family or neighborhood or at some higher level? Are we “all in”- – in trace of our Founders who pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor in support of the Idea of America as expressed in our Declaration of Independence? Or are we just spectators and part time participants? News flash. Citizenship in a democratic republic is not a spectator sport. It is participatory, 24/7/365. As President Reagan noted years ago: “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it on to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.” Citizenship obviously is not a sport or game. It is a way of life enabled by the Idea of America and sustained by the Nation created to nurture, protect and defend it. The Idea of America depends on citizens of high character for its success and survival. There is and can be only one Idea of America. Established in our Declaration of Independence, it defines our freedoms. Our Constitution, the fundamental law of the land, is designed to guide us in our quest to live in and to protect our freedoms. Hewing to our Founders’ guidance for 245 years, we have been a beacon of hope for freedom-loving people everywhere. We have fought repeatedly over our history to preserve our nation and our associated freedoms. And we have vanquished those enemies who would dominate and change us. Challenges to our freedoms occur ideologically, diplomatically, economically and kinetically. They are constant. We are in yet another, more murky, technology-driven cyber-clad contest for our future today. In that struggle there are domestic enemies of our freedoms seeking to subvert, convert or conquer us; we must find them and vanquish them as well. In particular, those who would interfere in the essential election process in any way threaten our survival. They must be identified, stopped, and brought to justice. So what are we to do? How do we make a difference? Consider the “Idea of America” as a virtual entity, comprised of our citizenry – – body, mind and spirit. In a bit of a stretch, borrow from the hard science of physics and apply the concept of a vector to society. Why? A vector has magnitude and direction. As a society, so do we. If we apply the vector model to the soft science of sociology and to the Idea of America, then the magnitude (physical mass and energy) of the Idea of America is “We, the People” – – individually and collectively; and our direction is that given us by our founding fathers. For decades they studied human nature and behavior as they considered how to govern in a way that keeps order in a society which treasures individual freedom. The wisdom in their guidance is more needed today than at any other time since our founding. And we citizens need the individual and collective discipline to follow that guidance. Citizens of high character are the American Vector. . .the engine with power to drive us to the future. What must we do to continue our rising trajectory as a democratic republic? How do we fuel ourselves? Study the essentials—our history as it unfolded, mistakes and all; and the logic behind our Founders’ decisions and actions. Demand our educational system teach our children all the facts of our history, truthfully, changing none. Rededicate ourselves to the values and principles which have fueled our many successes to date. Live them. Teach them. Learn the fundamental rules of governance, suit up, saddle up and take action. In our acting, we must focus on the “what”, and not the “who”. Our political discourse has devolved from thoughtful discussions of ideas, values, principles and activities necessary to sustain and grow America to ad hominem, high decibel, nano-second political power rants which give life to lies and fuel discord. We need to return to civility and patriotic purpose in our discussions and give ourselves time to think. Not every decision needs to be made “yesterday”. America is our nation. It will be what we make it. And we will leave to our successors the fruits of our labors. There are forces relentlessly at work that would turn us into a socialist state, bankrupt us, and steal our freedoms. That’s wrong! As Roosevelt said,”. . .no self-respecting individual, no self-respecting nation, can or ought to submit to wrong.” Let’s contribute to forming a more perfect union – – one based on the values established a quarter millennium ago and applicable to our human nature which remains unchanged over more than 6000 years. Let’s make sure we live those values every day and demand of those in positions of public responsibility that they do the same! Today we are the frog in the timeless “boiling the frog” analogy. Let us get out of the proverbial political pan taking shape around us and stand for our nation. There will likely continue a “set piece” battle at the national political level. And it is likely to be ugly. But the battle for America’s soul will be conducted at the grass roots level by informing, coaching and coaxing each other to study our history, to recognize the essence of our Founding Fathers’ wisdom and to stay active by setting a proper example for others, especially our youth. We must labor to keep the Idea of America alive and healthy. One citizen at a time, one day at a time. United by our sense of honor. Guided by the wisdom of our Founders. Powered by our courage. Committed to success. With civility at the interpersonal level – – focus on the “what” and avoid the blaming intrinsic in attacking the “who”. It starts with you and me. As we review our beginning of-the-year days of resolution-making, we must make our most important one be for America’s future. Learn. Think. Reflect. Act. Don’t wait. Fight’s on! It’s not of our choosing, but the struggle is real and we must win it.