In September of 1796, George Washington surprised the nation with the publication of his Farewell Address. In this historic letter, President Washington announced his intention to decline a third term, which established a significant precedent that has served our great country well for over two centuries.
Though President Washington could not have foreseen the state of American politics in the 21st Century, his letter provides prescient advice we would be wise to heed. We could use a healthy dose of his humility. Rather than filling his letter with a self-glorifying account of his eight-year tenure as Commander-In-Chief, he chose to offer a warning about the greatest threats to the future of the country.
Can you guess what President Washington believed was the greatest threat to the nation? His greatest concern was that Americans would allow party loyalty to trump the common values of the nation. He wrote, “The common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.” These are profound and prophetic words that should be heeded in a time as divisive as ours.
At their best, the Democratic and Republican parties represent and advocate important values that make our democracy effective when held in tension. On the one hand, conventional conservatives believe we are better as a nation when we hold on to the best of the values and principles that made us the greatest nation in the world in the history of the world. On the other hand, traditional liberals believe we are better as a nation when we progress toward the more perfect union inscribed, as a value in the Preamble to the Constitution.
From my position as a member of the Texas House of Representatives, it seems that we have lost this important balance as a state. Political partisanship and polarization have poisoned our common life together. Our gerrymandered districts do not invite good-natured and values-focused debate. Instead of focusing on values we are held hostage by a primary system constrained under a redlined political/social order to vote on ultra values, not values. Partisan hatred and fear of the other has overtaken our discourse and political rallies. In what trustworthy ‘Representative Democracy’ do you tackle ultra values as preeminent in the presupposed interest of common good for the interests of the common woman or man?
President Washington’s concern has become our reality. Tribal loyalty prevents us from engaging in reasoned debate and achieving outcomes that are best for all 30 million citizens in Texas. Many of us have become so married to our political parties that we blindly vote based on the (R) or (D) beside a candidate’s name rather than the values of our candidates while holding our noses at their ultra values.
As the debates begin leading up to another Presidential election in 2024, I encourage each of us to educate ourselves on the values we hold in common as a nation. Our democracy is worth preserving. Rather than automatically voting for your party’s candidate, ensure their values are your values. Hold your party’s candidate to the same standard that you use to critique the other party’s candidate. Become informed about each race and proposition on the ballot. The threat to the future of our democracy has grown over the past decade. Our shared values are currently being discarded. We are facing the threat of a crisis that President Washington prophesied more than 200 years ago.
This is the time to vote for our shared values as Americans. May we follow the advice of President Washington by coming together to discourage and restrain our common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party.
State Representative Carl O. Sherman, House District 109