BIDLACK | For a divided country, our two major parties aren’t that far apart
Author: Hal Bidlack - April 10, 2018 - Updated: April 10, 2018
I recently got an email from a dear friend, expressing great sorrow at the current state of our government and especially about the state of discourse today. Let’s call him Bob. Bob is worried, from his perspective somewhat left of center, but not way out there, that there is little to be hopeful about nationally. He wondered if he was excessively gloomy, and if not, is there light at the end of whatever length of tunnel we are currently in.
Bob’s a great guy, but he has one fault – he’s not 240 years old. Because if he were that age, he would have seen the cycles we, as a nation, seem to inevitably follow. I wrote a column some weeks back in which I argued that we are, in terms of our political conversations, roughly equivalent to 1850 or so, wherein lay the seeds of the most destructive war in our nation’s history. I argued that then, as increasingly now, we find ourselves insisting that those who disagree with us are not merely wrong, but must therefore also be at least un-American, and perhaps even evil.
And so, Bob’s depression about our national state of affairs is understandable, and there are large parts of what passes for governance today that I find both wrong and somewhat scary. But then in his email, Bob asked if there is anything that we can, in fact, feel good about. Will we ever be able to be, as he put it, proud of our country again?
My late father, my personal hero, served in the Army during WWII. I remember in my youth asking him about the national crisis we faced in the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal that followed. I worried as to whether our nation was strong enough to survive, with fundamental rights intact, Mr. Nixon’s twisting and thwarting of the Constitution. My dad, a wise man, told me that at my age, as a WWII soldier, he worried about the literal survival of the United States. In the face of, well, a WORLD war, the losing side would be destroyed and its national identity would be lost. We may fondly remember the Greek and Roman civilization, but they ultimately fell. So too did the once-globe-encompassing British Empire. To lose WWII would be to lose America, my dad recalled thinking.
And so, today, even with an utterly foolish and un-curious president, there remains much to be hopeful about and to honor.
When I taught basic government at the Air Force Academy, I would often start the course by drawing a line on the chalk board, labeling one end “anarchy – no government” and at the other the word “totalitarianism – total government control.” I’d ask my students, who were predominantly from the right end of the spectrum, to place tick marks where they thought today’s Democratic and Republican Parties belonged. Very often, they’d put a tick mark for the Dems way left near anarchy, and one to the far right, near totalitarianism, for the GOP. I would then startle them by placing the marks where I felt they should be – very near the center, one very slightly to the left, and the other very slightly to the right. That is because, on the truly fundamental principles that make this country what it is, both major parties mostly agree. They may argue about method and scope, but both agree that, for example, people should be able to choose their leaders through elections. They agree that people should have basic rights, though they will argue about how those rights should be both interpreted and enforced. Both parties agree that people should pay taxes and for those taxes they should receive government services.
But most importantly, most Americans agree on the fundamental truths that Thomas Jefferson articulated in the most important and amazing document ever written on government – The Declaration of Independence. Go ahead and re-read it. I’ll wait…
See? And pay special attention to the remarkable 36 words that begin with “We hold these truths to be self-evident…” That is the core of America, that is the American creed. We may disagree on the means and scope of governmental action, but as long as we are united in our fundamental commitment to the words of the Declaration, there is much to take pride in. And so, I am hopelessly hopeful about the future of our great nation.