I cannot ignore the impending catastrophe our bipartisan political system has placed in our path. It is more crippling and unavoidable than any physical wall anyone could ever build….
Yesterday, I read a thought-provoking OpEd that appears in “The Atlantic” magazine, “The Suicide of a Great Democracy” by staff writer George Packer. I would have overlooked the article as another ranting diatribe from disgruntled, uninformed and misled public partisans with their own self[ish] interests, but the photo of Abraham Lincoln staring down thoughtfully from his giant marble chair in the memorial that bears his name at the end of the National Mall in Washington, D.C. commanded me to take the time to see what is on Mr. Packer’s mind. As I suspected, Mr. Packer directs his discontent at President Trump via the prolonged government shutdown.
Partisan or not, Mr. Packer strikes a chord when he writes,
“Lincoln foresaw how American democracy might end – not through foreign conquest, but by our own fading attachments to its institutions. ‘If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher’ he said in 1838. ‘As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.’”
There was a time when America produced statesmen, not politicians. Politicians act for personal benefit and – supposedly – for the benefit of their well-defined constituencies. Statemen act for the good of the nation… even the world.
Abraham Lincoln was a statesman. Case in point, to abolish slavery was not his objective in the Civil War. His objective was to uphold the ‘leading principle’ upon which this nation was founded…
“No man is good enough to govern another man, without that other’s consent.”
His reluctant willingness to engage in a civil war with those states that seceded was inspired not by a desire to benefit a partisan group of abolitionists, but to benefit the entire nation by upholding its founding principle. That’s what statesmen do, they uphold the core values of the state.
As a young boy, I was taught in school that Abraham Lincoln and George Washington were great statesmen; they were. I considered John F. Kennedy to be a statesman, and Martin Luther King, too, but the more I aged, the fewer statesmen I recognized. My oldest son will be 44-years old this year, my youngest 36. Who do they consider statesmen? Who, politicians? My oldest grandson will be 23, my youngest, 3. Will they even know what a statesman is or will their minds be poisoned by the political chaos they have inherited from their fathers and their father’s father?
I recall another name from the JFK and MLK era, another giant who is an undisputed statesman. Dag Hammarskjold was sworn in as the United Nations Secretary General in April 1953. His name continued to recur throughout my grammar school years and his too brief tenure, which ended in a tragic plane crash in Africa in September 1961 as he was negotiating peace in the Congo. Three months later, he was posthumously awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Even as a pre-teen, I knew who Dag Hammarskjold was.
Mr. Hammarskjold would not have stooped to participate in the inane and pointless rhetoric that characterizes contemporary politics – local, state, national and international. Mr. Hammarskjold would have offered solutions, not speculations, and he would have done it in such a dignified way that other ‘leaders’ of the world could not have denied the veracity of his words. I offer three sentences that flowed from his pen that are characteristic of statesmen…
“Your life is without foundation if, in any matter, you choose on your own behalf.”
“How many personal failures are due to a lack of faith in this harmony between human beings…”
“Goodness is something so simple: always to live for others, never to seek one’s own advantage.”
Those are the words of a statesman and they rise infinitely higher than the pablum we are forced to swallow 24/7 as ‘reported’ by national media.
We cannot escape ‘the wall’ controversy, which has crippled our government. If I weigh the severity of constructing a physical wall to control illegal immigration against the severity of fighting a civil war, ‘the wall’ pales in comparison. Yet as Mr. Packer writes in his OpEd, “During the Civil War, the government never shut down – not even when the capitol was threatened by Confederate troops. A shutdown would have undermined the foundation of Lincoln’s cause, which was the ability of free people to rule themselves. The paralysis and dysfunction would have told the world that the government he led was no longer fully devoted to the cause for which other Americans had given the last full measure of devotion.”
Extreme, bipartisan politics has tarnished and threatens to destroy the image I once held of my country as the leader of the free world. The ability of the American people to govern themselves has been usurped by bipartisan politicians and special interest groups who claim knowledge and insights which is not theirs to claim. I shudder at what the hateful words our politicians exchange and what our extended government shutdown is telling the world.
America is in dire need of a statesman.