In a 1630 sermon, “A Model of Christian Charity,” based on a parable in Jesus’s sermon on the mount, Puritan John Winthrop admonished the colonists aboard the ship headed to the new world to establish a community that would become like a city on a hill, watched by the world.
The ethos of affection, unity and charity from the sermon carried us through the Revolutionary and Civil wars, undergirds our unique Constitution and stable, democratic form of government.
Indeed, the world has long seen us, and we proudly see ourselves, as “a shining city upon a hill.” Over the years, many politicians have used the phrase to describe our national character.
During his election campaign in 1980, President Ronald Reagan said our vision of a shining city on a hill was as strong 300 years later as it had ever been.
And in his farewell address to the nation in January 1989, he commented on how the “Reagan Revolution” had returned prosperity and improved our morale. He attributed the turnaround to rediscovering our basic values.
Some three decades later the Reagan Revolution has matured and been cannibalized by the well-connected and greedy. The rich are richer; the poor poorer. To make ends meet, laid-off, traditional middle-class workers have taken multiple part-time or entry-level jobs at low wages. They can’t afford to retire, plan for retirement, pay for their health care, attend school to prepare for better jobs or send their children to college.
Local and national infrastructure are crumbling. Complex national problems like drug addiction and death from overdose in young adults and gun violence are not being addressed. In short, a significant portion of the population restlessly, unhappily exists amid hopeless circumstances. For many, the American dream has turned into a far away fantasy, perhaps in some parallel universe.
As Rome burns, Congress fiddles in debased partisan gridlock, bickering over simple solutions to complex problems.
But politics is not an exact science with finite answers, like mathematics or physics. It’s goal is gradually finding truthful, multifaceted solutions to complex, many sided problems. All one person can know is one part or set of parts.
In his essay “On the Art of Conversation,” French philosopher Michele de Montaigne (1533-92) stated that in discussing issues no premise shocked him. He wasn’t hurt by any belief contrary to his own. And when contradicted he looked carefully to learn more in order to work together to find truth.
In other words, the enterprise of politics is a joint search to find the same truths via different paths. It’s to be approached with patience, humility and curiosity.
That’s a far cry from the rhetorical wasteland in Congress and in today’s public discourse. From the hinterlands it appears as though Republicans and Democrats have forgotten they were elected to nurture our founding values of national brotherhood and charity. They seem locked in zero sum, mortal combat to win or not lose.
Circumstances are ripe for another, political revolution. A hard reset in today’s technologic jargon. Enter Donald Trump, a wealthy, charismatic bully with a social developmental age of about 2 years and a psychosexual development age of 13 or so.
The least-experienced person ever to become president-elect, Trump’s negatives were thoroughly aired during the election campaign. Playing fast and loose with campaign promises and truths and with bravado he promised that he is the only one who could fix our problems. He offered hope to the hopeless and a breath of fresh air to those who are fed up with our disingenuous, dishonest political process that is demonstrably incapable of reforming itself.
But Donald Trump is no dummy. From a political perspective, he’s an unknown entity, undoubtedly changed by campaigning for the presidency. President Trump’s governing philosophy is yet to be determined. We and world will be watching.
In his farewell address, President Reagan also said once a revolution is underway it takes on a life of its own and the outcome is unpredictable. I’ve come to agree that it’s time to shake things up politically. If the Trump Revolution fails us, we will move on after awakening from our national slumber: more unified and caring for each other better than we are now. Once again a shining city on a hill.