Dear President Washington,
Welcome to the 21st century in America. Trust me, it’s more than a little weird writing to you.
Believe me, 500 words can’t cover the past 224 years, which is how long it has been since your address was printed announcing you would not run for another term as President. I believe our Senate reads your address each year as a tradition. It’s too bad they don’t listen to the words or take heed of the pitfalls you warned were facing leaders who would succeed you and your fellow founders. Traditions fall short when the reasons and the lessons are ignored.
I’m sitting here on the cusp of the year 2021. To paraphrase the past year is impossible. Suffice it to say in our current vernacular – it sucked. So, as I tried to think about burning the calendar and about the upcoming year, I found a book that had your farewell address. I read it again (I’ve read it before, but too many decades ago). Your recommendations and warnings were more than prescient.
Our country recently voted out a demagogue from the office you held. Your concerns were laid bare in our most recent history. As you know from your time and the renaissance teachings that informed you and your contemporaries, despots have a unique ability to engender a fervent following. Unfortunately, that human trait hasn’t evolved since your time.
You urged Americans to subordinate local jealousies to common national interests, and warned that emerging political parties could lead to the nation’s destruction through petty factionalism. Your warnings have gone unheeded, and political party tribalism is at its peak. Your address was read by those who were privileged to have the ability to read during your tenure.
If you were to speak to us today, your voice and your words could span the globe in real time. Oh, how I wish it were possible to hear your voice read the words developed for you before your second term by James Madison, and then edited and made more contemporary by Alexander Hamilton.
Your final edits and your personal contributions to this document are reflective of your own “Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior.” The country you helped found needs a refresher course in what being America and American meant to you, and remind us of the fragility of the Constitution that you helped defend and bring to life.
“..The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge natural to party dissention, which in different ages and countries has perpetuated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism.
“The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation on the ruins of public liberty.”
If you don’t mind, I’d like to continue my thoughts and questions with you. To be continued…