December 28, 2019

Our Two Political Parties: Rushing Toward Failure as Our First President Predicted and Feared.

by Hal Gershowitz

Comments Below

It is as sad as it was inevitable; our two major political parties finally deteriorating into lethal enemy camps instead of bastions of competing ideas. We say lethal because our constitutional democracy really is at risk. George Washington dreaded the inevitable formation of political parties in the new nation. He knew exactly where political parties would lead.

 Listen, carefully, to our first and best President. “The spirit of party serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one party against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. So, said George Washington 230 years ago in his farewell address to the nation he served so magnificently. He died at Mount Vernon three years later.

He was, in this respect, remarkably prescient for his time.  Also, it is not inconsequential that the next six Presidents of the United States were all alive during the Washington presidency, and five of them (Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, and John Quincy Adams) knew Washington and worked with him. Andrew Jackson, our seventh President was only thirteen at the time of the American Revolution, but he enlisted in the army and was captured by the British forces. He was, therefore, the only American President to have been a prisoner of war. Suffice to say, Washington’s influence on the presidents and the presidencies that followed him was enormous.

Today, the administration of our government is largely enfeebled as Washington feared, and the animosity between the parties has probably never been greater. Our political parties are, of course, focused on power. Winning is everything. Fidelity to the party, too often, becomes far more important than fidelity to the nation. We need not point fingers at who is to blame. It doesn’t matter.

President Trump has made a horror of decorum, discretion and demagoguery. The presidents before him, including presidents Obama and Bush (43) were willing to deceive when it served their respective agendas. While George Washington would weep at what the Presidency has become under Trump, he also, no doubt, would be horrified at the enfeebling partisanship the Democrats have demonstrated from the outset of the Trump presidency. Washington, no doubt, also would be horrified by the blanket abuse of Executive Privilege practiced by President Trump, the doctrine Washington established during his second Administration with respect to peace negotiations with England and the Jay Treaty.

Probably nothing would have horrified President George Washington more than Trump’s vilification of the press in America. Contrary to what many Americans might assume today, a hostile press quickly developed during Washington’s presidency. The press, which grew mightily during Washington’s two administrations became merciless in its criticism of the new President, especially over the Jay Treaty. Even John Paine, whose inspiring writing Washington read to his forces at Valley Forge directed volley after volley of harsh (and unfair) criticism at America’s first President. Washington responded, powerfully, by not dignifying the criticism directed at him with any response at all, a precedent that his image-conscience successor, John Adams, unfortunately, failed to follow.

Everything Washington feared about the evolution of political parties in the new country has come to pass.  Well, almost everything. We haven’t experienced party-directed riots or insurrection—yet.

Washington was a paragon of decorum and deportment. He did not aspire to the Presidency and was determined to retire following his second term. He enshrined in the new nation’s collective memory that he was a servant of the people and that in America the people were never the servant of the President. England’s King George could not believe his ears when he was told that Washington was retiring to his home at Mount Vernon after completing his second term as President; that he was voluntarily relinquishing power. Who had ever heard of such a thing at that time in history? “If that is true,” King George said, “then Washington would become the greatest man in the world.”

We don’t expect our current President or the leaders of our two major political parties to rise to the level of dignity that President Washington bequeathed to our nation over two hundred years ago. That level of selflessness and commitment to the ideals upon which our nation was founded seems long gone. We don’t see that kind of presence in either of the two parties or in either house of congress. There are no statesmen today who seem able to hold a candle to those who were present at the creation of this nation. None. We are all the losers.

All comments regarding these essays, whether they express agreement, disagreement, or an alternate view, are appreciated and welcome. Comments that do not pertain to the subject of the essay or which are ad hominem references to other commenters are not acceptable and will be deleted.

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13 responses to “Our Two Political Parties: Rushing Toward Failure as Our First President Predicted and Feared.”

  1. Robin Stonehill says:

    Very well said. enjoyed the writings so please have a Happy, healthy and prosperous New Year and continue my Sunday coffee readings

  2. Stephen Prover says:

    Excellent…. Happy New Year to You, Yours and all your readers.
    Thanks for a year of provocative, informative essays.

  3. Perry says:

    Historically we find a different scenario than in today’s world.

    While parties disagree vehemently they in their own ideology
    are believing their way is correct.

    As far as Trump’s attack on the media it is somewhat deserved.
    They vilified him from the outset rarely if ever giving him a credit for a job well done…….or for that matter almost NEVER.,

    One must know that with the economy and employment at such record levels there would be no doubt as to the re-election of this President. Only his own mouth and often
    unpolitical comments on friends and foes makes this election
    a true question mark.

    The true political divide started much earlier than this administration, but in this one it has certainly grown.

    It is indeed scandalous that both parties are so entrenched
    with rancor and bitterness.

  4. Bruce Olson says:

    Perfectly and historically framed! If only members of Congress would live up to Washington’s sage advice

  5. James Fisher says:

    Excellent objective analysis Hal. As an admitted partisan, however, I must say I think Trump and the republicans are doing much more to maintain the original values and aspirations that Washington envisioned and fought for this country than today’s democrats with their stated desire for open borders, a socialist world order and diminished religious values.

    All the best for 2020.

  6. Robert & Susan Diamond says:

    Susie and I enjoy reading “Of Thee I Sing” weekly. We wish you and your family a very Happy Healthy New Year.

  7. David Simon says:

    Could not agree more. I have often said that I look forward to the day when our politicians ask “what is in the best interests of the country” rather than “what is in the best interests of my Party”.
    There is plenty of blame to go around, but I have to say that the decline of the Democratic party to one of spite, tolerance for anti-Semitism, and a willingness to demean and destroy the most successful economic system ever created is disappointing and shocking.

  8. susan duman says:

    The brilliance of our founders and your dedication to keeping us “in the loop” is a privilege I could not have imagined.
    With gratitude,
    Susan Duman

  9. Mike says:

    Let me join the chorus…. Well said!

    I have friends serving in Congress and I often mention to them that the one example of just how dysfunctional we have become is our inability to address the infrastructure needs of our country.

    Our roads and bridges are deteriorating at an alarming rate and as the crisis in Flint, Michigan highlighted, things as basic as providing safe water are at risk of being compromised. Yet we continue to see both parties focused on bitter partisanship which puts the fiputure of our country at risk.

    Where are the Statemen/Stateswomen who will act in the best interests of the USA versus their blind loyalty to the interests of their respective parties?

  10. Robert borns says:

    As long as voters continue to blindly vote for “their” same political party and it’s candidates they will get the same mediocre legislators,presidents,governors and judges. The elected officials are screwing us blind and the voters keep the same unchanging childlike lockstep behavior. I wish all a healthy and meaningful year.

  11. Steve marcus says:

    Happy New Year to you, your family and your readers. Thanks for the wisdom you impart so thoughtfully every week. It makes us all better informed, if only we’re willing to read it with open minds.

  12. Betty Wolf says:

    Best wishes to you and your loved ones for a healthy and prosperous new decade, Hal. Thank you for the time and effort you put into these essays. It is refreshing that you offer up a platform for civilized reflection on the state and future of our country where differences can be discussed rationally. God bless America. Be well.

  13. jim katz says:

    A Happy, Healthy and continued prosperous new year for all.
    I share your insightful commentary with my family. Some of whom have now signed on

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