I was actually going to write a column this week that had nothing to do with politics ... until I read an opinion column written by Michael Gerson of the Washington Post Writers Group reprinted in the Brainerd Dispatch. The title was, “A Trump-Sanders election would destroy our politics.”
He drew upon a book by Yuval Levin, “A Time to Build,” that argues that political institutions were once seen as formative bodies in which people were expected to uphold certain standards and develop skills in “… excelling at the profession of politics.”
In contrast, “Politicians such as Trump and Sanders want to be seen as outsiders, overturning a discredited establishment.”
This brings me to a number of questions. Do we need a “profession of politics?” Has the current political establishment been discredited? If the answer is yes, how has it been discredited and by whom?
I’ll try to address these, including Gerson’s final conclusion of a nightmare, “Maybe there is no longer a democratic constituency for the talents and virtues that make democracy work.”
George Washington had witnessed the rise of political parties during his presidency. In his farewell address he admonished the country to avoid political parties. One of his statements included the phrase, “… a government for the whole is indispensable.”
I’m pretty certain he meant all the citizens, not just the radical fringe elements that are often pandered to for votes; or the deep pocket business interests.
He also said that “… combinations or associations of the above description (parties - my word) may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely, in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”
And he continued, “Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally.”
“This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but, in those of the popular form, it is seen in its greatest rankness, and is truly their worst enemy.”
As I read Washington’s words, it seems to me that our two parties have long since reached the point where they are working more for the “good” of one party or the other and against the “general welfare” called for in the Constitution. I further believe many more citizens outside of the governing elite believe just that and in the concept of “the swamp,” which certainly sounds to me like a discredited government.
I think that’s the overriding explanation for both the election results in 2016 and the current political climate.
President Trump is certainly not a poster child model of a Republican and I believe the same can be said about Sen. Sanders as a Democrat.
President Washington also observed that virtue, morality and religion were necessary supports to achieving “political prosperity.” In another vein, Aristotle opined that, “A government which is composed of the middle class more nearly approximates to democracy than to oligarchy and is the safest of the more imperfect forms of government.”
Politics should never be viewed as a profession. It is the ultimate form of quid pro quo that should not be lifelong employment and certainly not rewarded with a pension - period.
In my opinion, until we can pass meaningful term limits on all elected offices; create at least one and perhaps two or three more viable political parties to at least provide some balance; reinvigorate a movement for integrity, virtue and morality in those seeking office; and implement methods to factually and truthfully educate the electorate on issues affecting the majority of citizens, we will remain mired in the Okefenokee of politics as usual.
That’s how I see it.