“The actions of our fathers were the pillars of the temple of liberty; and now that they have crumbled away, that temple must fall, unless we, their descendants, supply their places with other pillars, hewn from the solid quarry of sober reason. Passion has helped us but can do so no more. It will, in the future, be our enemy. Reason –cold, calculating, unimpassioned reason – must furnish all the materials for our future support and defense. Let those materials be molded into general intelligence, sound morality and, in particular, a reverence for the Constitution and law.” Abraham Lincoln, January 1838.
President Lincoln understood that self-governance and the process of selecting our elected leaders was both serious and hard work. Further, I believe he was aware that to be an American is a challenge for every new generation of Americans, no exceptions.
When we stand proudly and salute or place our hand over our heart to repeat the pledge of allegiance, we are pledging our allegiance to our republic, not democracy or capitalism. Though we are far more democratic now than we were in Lincoln’s day, our forefathers painted a much broader picture in our Constitution.
If the government of our republic is in a mess, in crisis, if we see our state’s government fractured, who is to blame? Is it the fault of the Republican Party? Is it the fault of the Democratic Party? Should we not ask a more fundamental question: Who put these leaders in their positions of decision making and power?
Donald Trump’s insurgent takeover of the Republican Party took place because of a vacuum of grassroots participation in both parties that allowed political elites to control the electoral process for several decades. Much of this control is based on obscene amounts of funding now deemed necessary to fuel political campaigns.
Trump’s skill at exploiting fears within the white middle class, his pointing out the perceived failures of governmental agencies and promising he was the only one who could make America great again, filled a vacuum created by a lack of sound political leadership. We now have a man totally unqualified to be our president.
If we, as the electorate, continue to allow the political system to be based on how much money a candidate can raise rather than the qualities of his or his intellect and the strength of his or her character, we will never begin to fix our broken system.
Trump is a self-described populist. He needs the adulation of the throngs and large crowds to feed his larger-than-life ego. I understand that public opinion and sentiment can be the engine of the country, but without the right driver/leader to guide that engine, public sentiment can be just as oppressive as any tyrant.
As voters, as citizens of this great republic, as a people who must take on the challenge of self-governance, we must take due diligence in selecting leaders who will guide us through the times of uncertainty without reverting to fear and hate as motivating factors. We must learn to value intelligent political leadership, to reject those who are not worthy of the office they seek.
In 2018, we have the opportunity to hit the political reset button, both in Washington, D.C., and in Raleigh here at home. Let all the political parties, Republican, Democrat, and Libertarian, be acutely aware that they must win and deserve your vote and support, not out of party loyalty but because of the quality of the candidates they support and the issues for which they stand.
The United States, our republic, is great because it is a place where human dignity is the first principle of our institutions, and we must, once again, elect political leaders who remember this.
The writer lives in Princeton. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.