A greater level of concord is needed in this nation. Needed and possible. To step further toward such an ambitious ideal, we the people would do well to first remember the legacy of our country: foremost that we comprise the United States of America. That such a name represents immense privilege. That such a name offers hope to those who desire life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
We need a president to call for, model, and inspire this vision. But we need more. One leader is not enough, no matter how grand the title or how experienced the team. We need countless servant leaders characterized by integrity and discipline in every corner of our society: from cities to rural homes. We as leaders need to actively champion needs and values rooted in the hearts of all, and to do so in the conviction of reasonable belief. United in that kind of purpose, our community will be as strong as it can ever be in this frail world.
Citizens and leaders of the United States of America, are we free from the blame so readily cast upon our government, the so-called “establishment”? Have too many of us become apathetic and self-indulgent; all the while angry because life is not perfect, casting blame on those elected to steward the Constitution because that is easier to do than address our own inner failings? Is it not more productive to direct the anger first toward ourselves, the questions toward our own motives? “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone . . .” (Jesus Christ, The Gospel of John 8:7).
To be sure, all people must be held accountable for their actions or inactions. From presidents to students, leaders are entrusted with a profound responsibility that must be scrutinized. The freedom and means to do so in the United States of America is a blessing that must not be overlooked. It is healthy to acknowledge anger, especially at injustice, and to channel it in certain productive ways. But let us not forget our many gifts as Americans. Let us not drown gratitude in the fervor of indignation.
Elect to Build Bridges
As the tide of the presidential election is swelling with citizens more engaged than ever before, which is heartening, the heightening emotional currents threaten to partition this country like never before. I pray that my misgivings are ungrounded, that the environment painted by the media is colored by what will prove to be melodramatic exceptions. Yet George Washington’s words linger:
“However [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.” (Farewell Address, September 17, 1796)
Thus I petition for our next president to be one who fosters bridges not barriers. More so, I petition the beautifully diverse people—our strength—of the United States of America to not forget the vision that our nation was built upon. Without that foundation, what are we but another short chapter in history testifying to democratic entropy? On the eve of our Declaration of Independence, John Adams wrote, “Posterity! You will never know how much it cost the present Generation to preserve your Freedom! I hope you will make good use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in Heaven, that I ever took half the Pains to preserve it” (Letter to Abigail Adams, 26 April 1777).
So here is to remembering that foundation, to honoring those who fought hard for what we now enjoy and too often take for granted. While freedom can be defined in many ways, let us review the pillars our forefathers bled for that have long held this nation together:
“Equal and exact justice to all men, of whatever state or persuasion, religious or political. . . . Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none. . . . A jealous care of the right of election by the people. . . . Absolute acquiescence in the civil over the military authority. . . . The diffusion of information and arraignment of all abuses at the bar of the public reason. . . . Freedom of religion . . . Freedom of the press . . .Elect to Resist Bitterness
“These principles form the bright constellation which has gone before us and guided our steps through an age of revolution and reformation. The wisdom of our sages and blood of our heroes have been devoted to their attainment. They should be the creed of our political faith, the text of civic instruction, the touchstone by which to try the services of those we trust; and should we wander from them in moments of error or of alarm, let us hasten to retrace our steps and to regain the road which alone leads to peace, liberty, and safety.” (Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1801)
Almost prophetically, John Adams wrote,
“There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.” (Letter to Jonathan Jackson, Oct. 2, 1789)
Or as a sober reminder to be attentively proactive:
“Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide. It is in vain to say that democracy is less vain, less proud, less selfish, less ambitious, or less avaricious than aristocracy or monarchy. It is not true, in fact, and nowhere appears in history. Those passions are the same in all men, under all forms of simple government, and when unchecked, produce the same effects of fraud, violence, and cruelty.” (John Adams, Letter to John Taylor, 1814)
Let us not succumb to such a harrowing prediction. I think of so many peoples’ heightening prejudices stirring such dissension, too often rooted in groundless fear. We must ask ourselves, How many Muslims do you truly know? Or wartime refugees, illegal immigrants, journalists, politicians, Republicans, or Democrats? Have you listened to their stories before casting judgment? Let us, therefore, work toward understanding, to begin with asking questions and listening to the answers—even if we ultimately disagree with them. For example,
“Of all the animosities which have existed among mankind, those which are caused by a difference of sentiments in religion appear to be the most inveterate and distressing, and ought most to be deprecated.” (George Washington, Letter to Sir Edward Newenham, Oct. 20, 1792)Elect to Heal Wounds
The road toward peace has never been, nor is, nor ever will be straightforward. It is complex in its assemblage of differing perspectives and motivations. That is the great experiment of democracy. I resonate with Abraham Lincoln’s conclusion as voiced in his Second Inaugural Address on March 4, 1865—almost 151 years ago to the day, at a time clouded with some of the greatest strife this country has ever known:
“With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”
Pray for United States of America. Pray for the presidential elections. And let us facilitate informed and productive conversations toward a vision of true good for ourselves, our families, and our neighbors, both domestically and abroad. “Truth will ultimately prevail where there is pains taken to bring it to light” (George Washington, Letter to Charles M. Thruston, Aug. 10, 1794).