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Foundations For America In 2018

January 1, 2018

As we enter 2018 there is a natural tendency to think anew.  Turning the cover of a new book is how I often think of January 1st.   It is only natural people might now make personal assessments about what progress has been made with the ‘bucket list’ of desires for a lifetime.  Some items have check-marks and others need to be planned.  But we pay heed to the list.

When it comes to being a citizen and looking at the lay of the land as we enter a New Year it also requires reflection and attention.  That is a responsibility that comes with being a part of this nation.

I have tried for conversations over the past year with voters who cast a ballot in 2016 which was starkly different from mine.  I wished to know if the daily headlines were what they had envisioned and hoped for, or did they feel let down by the election of President Trump?  Did they hope following the election that Trump would offer “presidential” leadership after entering the Oval Office?  Did they wait like everyone else for a “presidential moment” after the terror attack in Charlottesville?

In short do those voters yearn for unity as a nation?  And do they sense what is being eroded from our national foundation as a result of Trump?

There is nothing in any action, speech, or tweet that sends even a weak signal that Trump has any desire or intention to unify our country.  Instead what we see and hear is the continuance of his pushing of fears and prejudices which only serve to further divide and mislead our nation.

As many readers know I very much admire and respect President Abraham Lincoln.  From his many words which still inspire are the following which he spoke in 1862.  The words are important to weigh in light of the national climate in which we live. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth.”

His words remind us that America has overcome hardship and mighty testing of our national fabric in earlier times, and even when faced with our most daunting challenges the ideals that matter most endured.  Ideals such as equality, liberty, and truth.  Not only did they remain strong but with our shared commitment to progress those ideals have ultimately advanced.

Over the years I have made time to read about history every day.  What jumps forth as a bedrock foundation, following decades of such reading, is that we are at our best when he allow our core ideals to lead and shine, such as with economic aid to Europe following WWII.  History also shows that it is at our darkest moments as a nation when we’ve turned our backs on those ideals, such as with the actions of the House Un-American Activities Committee.

What we must never lose sight of is that when we commit to it, freedom prevails against tyranny and populism.  (As my readers know I am not a fan of populism, and especially not when mixed with nationalism.)

After a long vacation in Washington D.C.  last spring I have focused much of my reading on the formative days of the nation.  The Federalist Papers are not just for a college classroom!  While the values and foundations of what I write are not in any way new they must be lifted high and proclaimed again and again.  Sadly what we are witnessing under the Trump Administration is a stepping away from and undermining of the values of our nation.

Therefore, as a nation we need to have our current generation of leaders defend these principles, and do so in a robust fashion.  It is not acceptable to have political party identity be the curbstone to acting in a fashion that history calls for, and our times demand.

So what values do I think need most attention at this time?

Equality.

As the Founding Fathers explicitly wrote in the Declaration of Independence they envisioned a government that treated its citizens equally.   We are all aware that the early implementation of this ideal was limited and seriously flawed. But Americans’ enduring pursuit of freedom has continuously expanded our recognition of the truth that all are created equal. Regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, income, or ideology, we are equal in the eyes of  the laws of this nation.

Whenever a threat to equality emerges, our leaders must rush to neutralize it. In reality, every other American ideal, and even our system of government, is based on the equality of all. Because of its foundational importance to our way of life, our leaders must constantly and actively advocate on its behalf, not just in times of crisis.  If we had acted on this value loudly and clearly over the years there would have been zero tolerance for the attacks on the judiciary by Trump, and especially his attack based on the ethnicity of a judge.

Free Speech.

The Constitution safeguards free speech, regardless of whether the message runs counter to our core ideals. Even those who spread hateful speech enjoy ample protections in our legal system. Despite these broad rights, not all ideas deserve the endorsement of our leaders, either explicitly or implicitly.  That was made most clear this year in Charlottesville.   We should not only expect, but demand that our political leaders to be moral leaders. They must champion equality, promote decency and denounce hate.   But as citizens, we must do the same.  Recall that our Founders viewed virtue with mighty importance.

An Independent Press.

This is a topic on which I have preached repeatedly.  Only an informed citizenry can hold its government accountable, and we cannot be informed without an independent press. When our leaders attack or threaten media that publish unfavorable but true information, we become less able to ensure leaders’ honest and wise public service.

The rise of partisan outlets has blurred the lines between fact and fiction. In this context, it’s easy to dismiss information that challenges our existing opinions, but being open to new information from multiple sources helps us ascertain truth.  I have written often about the need to be wise news consumers.

Make no mistake that is is vital for journalists to be able to report facts without fear of retribution or intimidation by our leaders. Journalists play an indispensable role in our democracy.  As I have noted before they are more important to a republic than a standing army.

The responsibility of being a citizen is a daily exercise.  In the good years it is easy to think one can rest and let others carry the load.  But over the past year it is now evident that to place the nation on the road moving in an intelligent path will require all citizens to help.

The way to start is to be first grounded in the foundations of our past.

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