“Shining City on a Hill”: Come Out of the Fog

Being president of the United States requires skills as an architect, an engineer, and a contractor. Putting the work of the people into practice is important, but not nearly as important as being the spiritual leader. I’m not suggesting any sort of religious practice here, but rather the spiritual leader of the idea Thomas Jefferson and James Madison so eloquently penned in our founding documents and George Washington so nobly launched on a righteous path.

The U.S. hasn’t been lauded as the leader of the free world over the last 75 years because we’re good at passing laws. It isn’t because we have a nuclear arsenal topped by none. It isn’t even because we could rule through fear and massive power. It is because we have free and fair elections and the people we choose as our leaders have, for the most part, risen to the challenge of country over self to make moral decisions.

None of our presidents have been perfect. Washington, Jefferson, and Jackson were all slave owners and they knew it was wrong at the time. Andrew Johnson was a drunk and bigot. Wilson was another bigot and Grant stood by as Natives were slaughtered. TR had an ego bigger than the Montana sky. Many including FDR, Eisenhower, JFK, and Clinton had affairs outside their marriages. LBJ was perfect in his pursuit of civil and voting rights for disenfranchised citizens but went completely off the rails when it came to being honest and moral concerning Vietnam­–soldiers died because he lied. Reagan willingly participated in Iran Contra, and George W. Bush allowed his hawkish advisors and vice president to exercise their preference for war as if it were a child’s game of Battleship. We don’t even want to wade into the corrupt waters that Nixon polluted.

What redeemed these men, with the arguable exceptions of Nixon and Andrew Johnson, is the fact that to the man they were able to overcome shortcomings and stand alongside our national symbols as living pillars of hope that both those who elected them and those in other countries could respect. These men were able to serve as leaders, often forgoing personal preferences, and represent the country. Lincoln stated that it was never his preference to free the slaves. If he could have saved the nation without doing so, he wouldn’t have. But he did because that was the only way.

Our best presidents offer hope. They offer a vision of our country that is better than any one of us. JFK sent us to the moon as a country with his vision and challenged himself and us to “ask not …” Lincoln told us that our “better angles” would rise to help in saving our union. He implied those “better angles”, our collective conscience, would be there for us in the modern world, long after he was gone, just as they were there for those about to embark on a terrible Civil War.

I hope he was right.

The president we have today isn’t willing to put aside personal interests, nor is he interested in rising above his human failings to don the leadership mantle. He prefers to wallow in them. From the beginning Mr. Trump has made it clear that his business would not be put on hold, his profits would not be mitigated, even for the greater good of the country. With broad strokes Mr. Trump condemns whole classes of people. He made it clear that a duly appointed judge, a man born in the United States and eligible to run for president if he so chooses, was not qualified to preside over a case simply due to his Mexican heritage because “I’m building a wall.”  Mr. Trump condemned African American citizens’ homeland as base and undeserving of a chance to improve. He condemns a whole religion as capable of murder if allowed to live in the U.S. He contends that some U.S. citizens, born here but whose parents were not, not be allowed to live together, yet sanctions his in-laws to become citizens for the same purpose. These are not actions of hope. These are opposite actions of hate, fear and division.

Those who would vote for Mr. Trump contend that his work as architect, engineer, and contractor–advancing the political agenda with which they agree, is good enough.

It just isn’t.

The more important aspect of the presidency is rising above one’s self and bringing forth a vision of hope. Donald Trump does not exhibit historical knowledge, curiosity to learn, or a willingness to put aside self-interests to become any sort of beacon lighting the black-diamond path toward a “more perfect union.” Mr. Trump’s run-away ego has falsely convinced him that, not all of us, but he alone is manifest of Lincoln’s better angel.

We made it through the crisis of Andrew Johnson wanting to reinstate the old biases and practices of antebellum times and the crisis of Nixon seizing the presidency to pamper his own tyrannical ego– “If the president does it, it’s legal.” So shall we make it through the fear-based reign of self-interest and living for the moment with no plans or intentions of hope or change that Donald Trump is foisting on us today. No easy task, however, with no “shining city on a hill” to stride toward.

Comments

  1. Jeanne O'Malley says:

    Downright fine writing!

Speak Your Mind

*