The Heritage American strives to discuss current concerns but usually not “current events,” which are handled so well by other writers in other formats. Still, on the eve of our presidential election, true Americans cannot help but feel their hearts tugged and moved by this great event, however cynical we may have become about it. Our President is not only our chief executive but also the nearest thing to royalty we have, a personal representative of the nation to itself and to the world.
In our first election, in 1789, George Washington was chosen unanimously by the 10 states that participated: New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, South Carolina, and Georgia. Despite the contentiousness of the Constitutional Convention, the people of the United States were in astonishingly close agreement about who should be President.
[W]ho were to be voted for when the electors should meet? Washington, of course, was to be one of the two persons equally to be voted for by the electors, – he who had the highest number, being a majority of all the electors, to be President, and the candidate receiving the next highest number to be Vice-President. But there was no formal nomination and no agreement among the electors, even among those belonging to the Federalist party, that Washington should be chosen. It was simply regarded as the obvious and proper course to make him the first President. Nor did the Anti-Federalists at any time come to the point of deciding to oppose him. Probably they never even seriously considered the propriety of so doing. (1)
Washington’s election was not at all democratic by today’s standards, but his election truly accorded with the will of the people, and they were blessed by a truly great President and great man. Today, though Americans by heritage could still, in principle, use their numbers to fight for their own interests, the electoral system is increasingly a tool for disempowering us. Every Muslim vote, every “Hispanic” vote, is a cancellation of the vote of one of us.
To traditionalists and lovers of the American nation, the election of 2008 feels like the last election, the one in which those who decisively reject the “heritage of ordered liberty under limited government with individual rights” in favor of “group rights and identity politics,” as this commenter put it, may prevail openly for the first time. This writer remembers liberal acquaintances describing how they cried and wore black when George W. Bush was elected in 2004; but they know not of the grief this election will bring to some of us – and we will be weeping for them, our misguided compatriots too, even as they celebrate.
Following the election, if the worst comes to pass, we may be surprised to find ourselves relieved. The world will keep turning, our lives will go on much as before, and we will learn to accept what seemed an impossibility six months or a year before. We may even be disappointed to find that no great battles come to us immediately. The humiliation we expected to feel may not sting as much as we thought.
That will be the time to resist the urge to rest from the struggle, to gird ourselves to keep fighting and keep reaching out to each other. Prayer and humility, too, will be needed to keep us from squandering our love and our resources.
In this difficult time, I believe in a great future for our people. We will get through this and survive, though we cannot know what form our future is to take. It is too much for men to ask that they not be tested, and I for one would not have it any other way. Let us arise for the test. As one figure of my youth put it, “Anyone who fights for the future, lives in it today.” George Washington is on our side.
(1) Edward Stanwood, A History of Presidential Elections, Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1892, p. 11-12.