October 13, 2019

My Fantasy State of the Union

My fellow Americans,  

Presidents often assert that the state of our union is strong. This year, it’s more complicated. 

As ever, parents and teachers serve our children, citizens volunteer and help neighbors during natural disasters, and unsung breadwinners quietly keep the American Dream alive for families.  

We are still an innovation nation, creative and entrepreneurial. Our unemployment rate is low, and we are making progress on fairer trade deals, in our peacetime alliances, and in rebuilding our military preparedness and deterrence. 

But our political and social culture is devolving into distrust, contempt and violence.  We have entered a state of disunion.   

The 2016 campaign result has been resisted by many and we have collapsed into all-out legal warfare, potentially an impeachment battle and a constitutional crisis. There is growing public distrust of the Republican president, the Democratic House of Representatives, and the special prosecutor. Take your pick. 

Mutual accusations of treason have been casually tossed around by politicians and the media. This must all stop now. Tonight I ask everyone to take responsibility for our national disharmony. I am willing to go first in setting a new tone for our nation. I apologize for my offenses. 

I have not been truthful, constructive or kind in all of my public statements. My campaign associates, national security adviser, and personal attorney have all pleaded guilty to crimes.  I am responsible for the ethical tone of my administration and I have not yet cleaned up the swamp. 

I pledge to cooperate fully with all legal processes. 

In the spirit of compromise, I will negotiate in good faith through the legislative process for my priorities of border security, including fencing and technology to halt cross-border illegal trafficking of drugs and immigrants. If Congress does not cooperate, then the voters at the next election will express their will. 

It’s crucial that we begin to create a new climate of bipartisanship. The current climate is undermining our great country. The continuing political warfare in our capital has been matched by partisan media, which plays to citizens who post online with sharp enmity, sever friendships and even refuse to sit with family members.  

Activists confront elected officials in restaurants and publish their home addresses. Celebrities scream obscenities at mass rallies. Members of Congress have been shot. We are literally at each other’s throats. 

We have lost our common civic path and our shared American political philosophy, and have become the Disunited States of America.

During the American Enlightenment, our founders asserted that through reason we discover universal first principles such as equal justice under law, and individual rights to religious conscience, private property, political speech, association and assembly. 

Natural law philosophy believes our inalienable rights come from God, not government, and that citizens “consent” to be governed in a democratic republic of checks and balances, separation of powers, judicial review and federalism, which encourages experimentation among the several states. 

We entrusted to our federal government limited power, through a Constitution and Bill of Rights. In 1788, at the New York Ratification Convention, Alexander Hamilton put it simply: “Here, sir, the people govern.” 

The toughest challenge for our new nation was to realize the promise of the Declaration of Independence, which exposed slavery as incompatible with the foundational American conception of liberty. In his 1854 speech in Springfield, Ill., Abraham Lincoln asserted that “the theory of our government is universal freedom. ‘All men are created free and equal.’ The word slavery is not found in the Constitution.” 

On July 4, 1863, news arrived to President Lincoln of the Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, which set the course for the North to win the Civil War. Overcome with emotion, Lincoln, who believed in “mystic chords of memory,” noted it was the 87th anniversary of July 4, 1776. In his stirring Gettysburg Address, Lincoln proclaimed a “new birth of freedom” for our nation. 

Through the Great Depression of the 1930s and then World War II, our countrymen remained unified. The post-war boom of the 1950s was the height of optimism following those two difficult decades of hardship. 

But then came the 1960s. 

When President John F. Kennedy asserted in his 1961 inaugural address, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,” he was speaking insightfully against growing statism.  

While a social safety net for the truly needy and vulnerable is virtually universally supported, we are now divided over free-market capitalism versus welfare socialism; the progressive income tax code; public employee unions; the minimum wage; the 1 percent, and regulations of Wall Street and Silicon Valley’s Big Tech. 

A second area of intense dispute arose in response to the magnificent 1963 “I have a dream” speech of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.  He promoted a universal ethic of fairness, demanding to cash the check of political equality promised in the American founding. 

However, today ethnic-identity politics dominates our culture with race consciousness, not race blindness. Quotas, set-asides and affirmative action in education and contracting; demands for reparations; ethnic studies and racial separation in collegiate dorms and graduations; the tearing down of Confederate-era statues; hostility to our national anthem and to such icons as Christopher Columbus and Thomas Jefferson; and campaigns against “white privilege” and for Black Lives Matter. 

Finally, the Vietnam War launched an era of anti-war protest and pacifism, hippy culture and drug use, sexual liberation and feminism, and a generational distrust of “anyone over 30.” In the 1970s, the Watergate scandal soon followed. The large baby boom demographic came of age during all of this growing civic distrust and rebellion. 

After the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, citizens united with a “let’s roll” response to ascendant Jihadism, but the left and right remain disunited on foreign policy. 

For almost five decades, partisans have argued over legalized abortion. The Supreme Court’s 1963 restriction on public-school prayer launched religious liberty debates that continue. Hostility to religious Americans is unfortunate, as is discrimination or bigotry of any kind.  

We bitterly disagree over gun laws and the Second Amendment, capital punishment and the Electoral College, voting rights for felons and voter ID laws. 

My point is, our disagreements are real and heartfelt and we can’t just wish them away. What we can do, however, here in this Congress, is set an example for the American people for how to handle disagreements and forge reasonable compromises for the good of our nation. 

After two years on the job, I realize now that we’ll never make America great again until we make America civil again. 

Thank you and God bless America.

Larry Greenfield is a fellow of the Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship & Political Philosophy.