Special to the Caldwell Journal (By Dan Rundquist – 01/16/2017)…January 2017 brings us the inauguration of a new president. Americans have witnessed a busy election season to say the least. Impassioned candidates full of rhetoric, a media buzzing with whatever story they determined might generate the most attention, hopeful voters who cast their ballots, and now protestors upset with the outcome. If it seems to you that this election cycle was more important than the last, there are grounds to support your feelings.
The American condition is in a perilous state at present. The national debt soon topping $20,000,000,000,000; more than 94,000,000 Americans out of work (62% of the labor force!); no real rises in wages in years for those who are still working, with more than 893,000 bankruptcies and nearly 521,000 home foreclosures in 2016 alone. 4.9 million manufacturing jobs have been lost to the nation over the past 16 years. Add that to the nearly 43 million Americans now living in poverty and it’s not at all surprising that the voters decided to make a change in leadership and policy for the nation. Americans of all political backgrounds are desperately looking for the path forward.
I could go on to fill this entire space with additional figures that tell the same alarming story. The tragedy is that these numbers represent the lives of real American families both across the nation and at home. It is a desperate state of affairs for any incoming president to have to deal with, but is certainly not the first time Americans have had to face such hard realities.
Encouragement for success in dealing with these issues may be discovered in our own past. In December of 1778 things were not going well for America. The Revolutionary War was in full swing without an end in sight, there was rampant currency inflation and weakness in congress to act…well perhaps it is better to let General George Washington sum up the circumstances as he did in his letter to Benjamin Harrison:
“A picture of the times—& of Men—from what I have Seen, heard, & in part know I should in one word say that idleness, dissipation & extravagance seems to have laid fast hold of most of them. That speculation—peculation—& an insatiable thirst for riches seems to have got the better of every other consideration and almost of every order of Men. That party disputes & personal quarrels are the great business of the day whilst the momentous concerns of an empire—a great & accumulated debt—ruined finances—depreciated money—& want of credit (which in their consequences is the want of everything) are but secondary considerations & postponed from day to day—from week to week as if our affairs wore the most promising aspect—after drawing this picture, which from my Soul I believe to be a true one I need not repeat to you that I am alarmed and wish to see my Country men roused…Your Money is now sinking 5 pr Ct a day in this City and I shall not be surprized if in the course of a few months a total stop is put to the currency of it. …a great part of the Officers of yr army from absolute necessity are quitting the Service and the more virtuous few rather than do this are sinking by sure degrees into beggery & want. I again repeat to you that this is not an exaggerated acct—that it is an alarming one I do not deny, & confess to you that I feel more real distress on acct of the pres[en]t appearances of things than I have done at any one time since the commencement of the dispute…”
Washington here lays out the desperate condition of the fledgling American nation. Just as it is today, Americans were busy chasing the dollar and the divisions caused by “party disputes & personal quarrels” seem to be of more concern to the public than any of the real issues at hand. General Washington is both troubled and alarmed by the nation’s debt, currency, and lack of credit of which too few others apparently seem concerned with. His competent officers faced with the reality that the value of their pay is depreciating at such a rate that they would work themselves into poverty if they remained in service to the Continental Army.
In many respects the times in which Washington and his men lived appear to mirror our own. Not surprisingly, Washington’s first recommendation for a course of action was to start with the appointing of competent and dedicated leadership. Appointments to these representative posts were necessary as the present election process as we know it today did not yet exist.
“By one who wishes the prosperity of America most devoutly and sees or thinks he sees it, on the brink of ruin, you are beseeched…to rescue your Country by…sending your ablest & best Men to Congress—these characters must not slumber, nor sleep at home, in such times of pressing danger—they must not content themselves in the enjoyment of places of honor or profit in their own Country while the common interests of America are mouldering & sinking into irretrievable (if a remedy is not soon applied) ruin, in which theirs also must ultimately be involved.”
It also seems plain to me that Washington’s description of who should be appointed (“ablest & best”) differs from the character of many of our politicians today, and I need not list names of the offenders for the sake of brevity here. Washington further attempts to press the sense of urgency of the service of these representatives by asking that they must not rest or spend time using their positions to enrich themselves personally. Americans now know that for a long time our modern political class has been guilty of these offenses—another driver for our electorate at the ballot box in hopes of correcting at least some of this behavior and refocusing Congress and the Executive Branch on the important matters of State.
Bear in mind that because mankind itself is flawed, the American Framers wisely explained for all posterity that they did only the best that could be done in forming a free republic. The U.S. Constitution they ratified begins, “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union…” Even they understood at our Founding that the system of American government they prescribed could not be perfect, and the American people would have to settle for only “more perfect” than other nations both contemporary and ancient.
It is a fair conclusion that the past courses and policies of two branches of American government were soundly repudiated by the electorate in November, 2016. Whatever our individual political beliefs may be, Americans should take hope in the knowledge that the nation has faced desperate circumstances before and the American people were able to unify to overcome them. It is, however, of great importance to keep in mind that the wheels of government turn slowly by the proper design of the U.S.
Constitution. Change—restoration in the present case—will simply take time, and we ought not to rush to frustration if positive progress is not immediately apparent. Patience and cool heads must remain the order of the day among the American citizenry.
Dan Rundquist is a Caldwell Journal Contributor.
Copyright 2017 Caldwell Journal on behalf of Dan Rundquist. All rights reserved.