In this crucial moment of a free-fall, Americans need wisdom to discern who has the Right Stuff to revive our founding heritage and guide us to be great again.
Two stories ...
Two months ago, a friend received a deserved honor from his alma mater. He resisted and objected to recognition and publicity in the Observer.
“As you know,” he wrote, “I do not seek or relish press. I do not want people knowing where I live or what I do and don't care if anyone knows who I am ... The only action I want to talk about and seek press for is around what is happening in our nation or community. I want a better life for my kids and our country.”
Note his closing sentence.
Two Christmases ago, our family experienced a poignant moment when my 85-year-old mother-in-law gave as gifts to her two granddaughters and granddaughter-in-law each a cherished ring that she had possessed for much of her life. It was heart-rending to see the family matriarch pass along her legacy to the next generation, slipping on their fingers a rich piece of family heritage, each ring glowing with a story to be told to the next generation.
These two unrelated incidents are quintessential American stories.
In the one, you see the importance of the traditions and values that so often are passed along in this country from one generation to the next and the next — starting in some families all the way back to the Pilgrims in the 1600s. In the other, you see a patriarch looking ahead, not for himself, but committed to leaving for his children and his homeland a better life and place for the next generation.
The past and future.
We, of course, are in the present — 2016, a new year, a new time to refresh and restart, to press that famous “reset” button. But in the context of current events — namely the event consuming Americans, the presidential election of 2016 — the past and future are inextricably important to the present.
Both will weigh on the decisions Americans will make over the next 12 months in the voting booths. The past: What has transpired over the past eight years. And the future: Who has the right vision, temperament, record and judgment to lead the United States into the next decade.
Which brings us to our annual tradition — selecting a word by which to live by over the next 12 months. Last year, for 2015, our word was aspire. In 2014, it was revelation. And in 2013, freedom. (See box, page 18)
Perpetuate our heritage
For 2016, our word is wisdom. We should ask our Divine Creator to bestow wisdom on us, on all Americans: the wisdom to make the right choices in the presidential (and all) elections; the wisdom to revive in ourselves our allegiance and commitment to our nation's founding principles and values — the U.S. Constitution — as our guide star for American culture and our daily decisions; and the wisdom to embody and perpetuate our heritage, our Americanism, as we strive to improve the future for our children and country.
For so many Americans, it seems easy to disengage from the public square and go about day-to-day living, texting, paying the bills, confronting family dramas. But this isn't the American way.
From the beginning, Founding Fathers Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, among others, realized the importance of civic involvement and an educated society if the republic was to thrive. In his day, Franklin was the nation's wise owl, advocating self-reliance, industriousness, frugality and public-spiritedness. And if these virtues were not cultivated through constant education, the republic would be susceptible to falling toward despotism.
Franklin's virtues took hold, to the point Americans' DNA seemed innately woven with molecules of civic involvement. A half-century after the adoption of the Constitution, Alexis De Tocqueville, the Frenchman who authored the famous book, “Democracy in America,” saw this in his journey through America:
“Americans alternately display so strong and similar a passion for prosperity and freedom that one must suppose these impulses to be united and mingled in some part of their souls.
“Americans in fact do regard their freedom as the best tool and surest safeguard of their wellbeing ... They do not consider their concern for public matters to be none of their business; on the contrary, they believe it to be their chief concern to secure for themselves a government which allows them to obtain the good things they want and will not stop them from peacefully enjoying those they already possess.”
Maybe it happens every four years automatically, but in this presidential cycle, the level of civic awareness and engagement, at least on the Republican side, is running at a higher voltage than the two previous rounds. Thank you, Donald Trump.
Come next month, though, the reality show becomes real. Iowa and New Hampshire Republicans will start the voting. Give them — and all voters — wisdom. Give them the wisdom to strip away the politicking and potshotting to discern which candidate has the Right Stuff. The character, integrity, honesty, intelligence, vision, temperament, leadership, values and principles that represent the America of our heritage and the future.
It's not overstating to say the future of the republic is at stake, more so than it was in 1980, when we were in the throes then, as now, of losing to the Iranians and staring down a threatening Soviet Union. For the next president, his or her inheritance is figuring out how to save and revive almost a free-falling worldwide industrial conglomerate — this one, though, 10 times the size and complexity of Carly Fiorina's Hewlett-Packard.
Our cultural war
Coarsing concurrently with the presidential election is the broiling cultural war on our most cherished rights and the foundation of our nation — the PC assaults on religion, speech and the right to bear arms. Surely you saw the video of filmmaker Ari Horowitz asking Yale University students if they would sign his petition to repeal the First Amendment. More than 50 gladly signed in less than an hour — clueless to the consequences if that really occurred. Can you imagine? They ignorantly support totalitarianism!
Likewise, we could fill this page with examples of egregious religious persecution, not the least of which is coming from our own federal government. And hardly a week goes by without Barack Obama and his Democrat cohorts campaigning to confiscate guns from law-abiding Americans.
Wisdom on its own won't stop these assaults and war. But wise, smart Americans can defeat them. As Jefferson put it: “The most effectual means of preventing the perversion of power into tyranny is to illuminate, as far as practicable, the minds of the people at large.” ... Jefferson also said: “The surest way of instilling it into children is for parents to set them an example.”
Educate, educate, educate. We stigmatized and ostracized over the past two decades Americans who smoke with incessant media campaigns. Apply the same approach to the First and Second Amendments — except to emphasize their positive attributes. Wisdom at work.
The secret to happiness
Work. This, too, is where we need wisdom.
While we still may be the most productive and entrepreneurial nation in the world, it doesn't feel like it. For the first time in five years, the Kauffman Index recorded what it called “a tepid” increase in business startups. The percentage of Americans in the work force still hovers at historical low levels, a persistent pall throughout the Obama years. Ask employers their biggest pain points, and they uniformly say: “Finding people willing to work hard.” They cringe at hiring millennials — largely because of their disappointing work ethic.
This is as important as selecting the right president: America's work culture. Benjamin Franklin preached the virtue of industriousness is crucial to the success of the republic. Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute and a scholar on social entrepreneurship, wrote in 2014: “The secret to happiness is success in the workplace — earned success, the belief you are creating value with your life and value in the lives of others.” We need this ethos once again. It's part of our heritage and our nation's future success.
Say what you will about Donald Trump. But he is right. Americans want to win again. Americans want to be great again.
Give us, Lord, the wisdom to get there, to revive our heritage and perpetuate it for the next generation.
Our previous words
Freedom — “Look at that horrific mess we have let our “public servants” perpetrate on us, and then look at your children and grandchildren. They are destined to be slaves to the state and to a declining standard of living.
“This is why freedom should be the word for 2013, 2014 and beyond. If the next generations do not understand and know the truths of our nation's founding principles or the miraculousness of free-market capitalism, they are doomed. We will have doomed them.
“We need to teach and shout the meaning of freedom.”
Revelation — “Our hope is that a wave of revelation sweeps over Americans. That they have a lasting, lightning-bolt revelation that the current state of the “State” is taking us to an unavoidable, destructive end of what we all believe this country stands for. We may think we are free ... but when you take the power of the State today and view it in the context of the past 80 years, it's difficult to be optimistic that in our lifetimes the power of the State will diminish and freedom will increase.
“That's why Americans need a revelation. They need a voice and vision in the sky that says: “What shall it be: the 'State' or freedom?”
Aspire —That American leaders at every level — local, state and federal; parents, teachers, elected officials, business leaders and athletic coaches — reinvigorate this waning trait that for so many generations permeated our American culture.
We used to aspire. We aspired to be great, to be the best, to win. And we went for it. We worked for it. We did whatever it took to be great.
We need to bring this back. We need to teach everyone — especially America's children — to aspire to be great. And to go for it.
Bring back Vince Lombardi.