Last year at this time, wisdom was our word — that Americans would have wisdom in the voting booth.
Was it wisdom?
When we wrote at this time last year about that one word to live by in 2016, the word was “wisdom.”
“We should ask our Divine Creator to bestow wisdom on us, on all Americans,” we wrote. “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 stars 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.”
Was it wisdom that, ultimately, compelled the American electorate to choose Donald Trump as the next president?
Certainly, those who detest Trump and refuse to accept him or give him a chance would say his election was collective stupidity, not wisdom. It was anything — Putin, Wikileaks — but wisdom.
But even those forever Never Trumpers cannot argue that, after everything that occurred during the campaign, each one of the 62.2 million people who voted for Trump individually and consciously employed their own reasoning, their rational minds, to color the ballot bubble for Trump. And you cannot deny that in the process of making that choice, millions of the Trump voters did so by employing degrees of wisdom. They combined the ingredients of wisdom — their experience, knowledge and judgment — to make the choice of Trump over Hillary Clinton.
WHAT COMPELS HUMAN ACTION
Sure, you can make a long list of reasons other than voter wisdom on why Clinton and the Democrats lost. But the late Austrian economist, Ludwig von Mises, also would argue the votes for Trump, ultimately, included more than wisdom. They also were the result of three conditions that compel human action:
1) An uneasiness, a discomfort about current conditions;
2) A desire for or an image of a more satisfactory state — something better than what they have;
3) And, lastly, the expectation that a certain behavior — in this case, a vote — has the power to remove or alleviate the uneasiness.
You know the saying: People don’t change until they have too much pain.
So let’s conclude that in that cocktail of how and why voters opted for Donald Trump, you must accept that it was a degree of wisdom that compelled enough Americans to want to take a chance and make a change with Trump. They had too much pain. And they combined Von Mises’ three conditions to compel them to change the nation’s direction.
Americans voted with the hope of getting rid of or alleviating their uneasiness (with the direction of the country, the economy, their personal financial circumstances, and with what they perceived Clinton represented), and they voted to replace that uneasiness with what they believed would bring better conditions — Trump. He was the symbol and vehicle for the better.
Now what? If Americans lived in 2016 by the word “wisdom,” what is to follow? In the wake of November’s election results — at all levels, local, state and national — what one word can best capture what to live by, to guide us forward in 2017?
Michelle Obama says there is no hope. But the election results prove Von Mises’ observation right: Americans have an image in their minds of something better. There is hope.
But hope is not a strategy. Instead, is there one word we can live by in 2017 that would transform hope into something tangibly better than what we’ve had?
THE THREE WORDS TO LIVE BY
There isn’t one word. There are three:
“Make America great.”
Don’t groan. Bear with me.
Yeah, OK, call it a trite, maybe even corny, political campaign slogan. But if you can put aside your cynicism, especially any cynicism or disdain you might have for Donald Trump, first, you must give him credit.
Here was a billionaire businessman who had never run for public office. Arguably one of America’s elites. But among all the candidates seeking the Republican Party’s nomination, he was the one contestant who connected best with the American bourgeoisie — the American middle class, what Trump calls the forgotten Americans.
All the other candidates were symbols of and part of the elite establishment — the “clerisy,” as dubbed by historian, economist and author Deirdre McCloskey … the intellectuals, the D.C., New York and mainstream media elites and pundits, the politicians and political professionals and bureaucrats — all of whom demonstrated for eight years a condescension and lip service toward average Americans, the forgotten bourgeoisie.
Trump, on the other hand, recognized their conditions and their displeasure and frustration with the elites and offered a new hope that connected with flyover America: “Make America Great Again.” Throw out the high-minded big shots who have been destroying the America they love and go back to what made America great.
Trump’s victory shows it’s the right idea at the right time. And it’s a call every American can embrace if he or she thinks first as a patriot and not a Republican, Democrat or whatever.
Imagine if those three words indeed became the mantra and mission of Americans, much the way defeating the Axis of Evil became the single-minded effort and mission of nearly every American during World War II.
Imagine what could happen if Americans adopted in whatever their endeavor, whatever their job, a conscious commitment in 2017 to doing it with the idea of making America great … of being the best in the world. Imagine what would occur if every American performed with a motivation and belief that doing his best and doing it right would make America better … and themselves better along the way.
SUCCESS BREEDS SUCCESS
For all of the cynics, this sounds Pollyannish, to be sure. Economists and realists will tell you it’s impossible to persuade 320 million individuals with free minds, much less five people, to move in the same direction. And then there are the 64 million Americans who did not vote for Trump. Judging from many of their post-election vitriol, it appears as though it would be impossible to persuade them to think beyond Trump the man and embrace his all-American theme.
Nonetheless, it can be done — to a significant degree. Look at the way our public campaigns have ostracized cigarette smokers. Think what could happen if the same effort were directed toward a positive goal of making America great. Think what would happen if we constantly were urged to do our part. Or imagine the effects on our youth if Lebron James or Miley Cyrus and other pop-culture celebs were urging young people to do their part to make America great.
You know the feeling when you are part of a winning team. It’s fulfilling. You feel good. Success breeds success.
Perhaps the best way to explain what can happen if we made our words to live by in 2017 “Make America great” is to quote Horst Schulze, the man who founded the Ritz-Carlton hotel chain and made it an icon of excellence and luxury.
Schulze saw what happens when a commitment to being great becomes an organization’s culture. In an interview a few years after he moved on from Ritz-Carlton, Schulze reflected on lessons learned during his tenure as CEO. One of his fondest lessons: “Happiness is greatly driven by being connected to creating excellence.”
When we do the best we can and do what we do well, we will make America great … again.