Perhaps it is not coincidental, then, that within a few days of our national elections is Veterans Day, the day the nation comes together to honor its military veterans.
“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
Abraham Lincoln, first inaugural address, March 4, 1861
“With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan — to do all which may achieve and cherish, a just and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”
Abraham Lincoln, second inaugural address, March 4, 1865
In this swirl of bitterness and strife, as you absorb the outcome of Tuesday’s elections, be you victor or vanquished, the closing admonitions in Abraham Lincoln’s two inaugural addresses surely serve as compelling reminders of who we must be. That, as Americans, we have in our hearts a duty to be “the better angels of our nature.”
What Lincoln urged his countrymen to be and do, to be sure, starts with each of us. Each of us can do our part to bring civility and respect to the public square. But that especially requires those who competed for public office — winners and losers — to be the bigger person. Everyone knows: The leaders set the tone.
We need a new model and new models for the next generation.
What is it that compels political candidates and, especially, their handlers to denigrate and destroy their opponents with untruthful, deceptive and often disgustingly dishonest advertising? The aim, of course, is to tear down and destroy the opponent. And in this media-driven era, the behind-the-scenes operatives make millions producing the smut designed to overwhelm the short attention spans of uninformed voters with sleazily worded sound bites, out-of-context videos, ominous voices and fraudulent social media posts.
The irony is most respectable candidates would never be as disrespectful or as caustic in the normal course of their business, professional or personal lives. But on TV, radio, the internet and especially, on the debate stage, more and more candidates discard their integrity and engage in a contest of who can deliver the most clever, denigrating sound bite.
Lincoln and Frederick Douglass would be appalled.
Obviously, the political handlers keep doing this because they are convinced it works — regardless of the public’s disdain for it. After all, the modern-day operatives are not the inventors of this approach; it has been going on since the nation’s first elections began.
Even so, the tenor of electioneering is all the more ironic when you consider the nation’s founders and its founding were so strongly rooted in the Judeo-Christian beliefs of the Ten Commandments — “love thy neighbor as thyself” and “thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.”
Surely our “better angels” would cause us to reject the tactics that wear us all down. But, of course, we are human.
Nevertheless, this climate and tradition can change.
Perhaps it is not coincidental, then, that within a few days of our national elections is Veterans Day, the day the nation comes together to honor its military veterans. These are the Americans who felt a transcending commitment of honor and duty when they donned the uniform and made the pledge:
“I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same …”
When our soldiers — with their families behind them — made that solemn vow, they made the pledge that they were willing to sacrifice their lives to keep us from becoming the slaves of our enemies. Every man and woman who walked in uniform was willing to live what Christ told his apostles: “No one has greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
Surely we can turn the tide.
Indeed, we have a duty to show those Cub Scouts at the Veterans Day parades — and all those generations behind us — that we can be, as Lincoln said, “not enemies, but friends”; “with malice toward none, with charity for all” … “the better angels of our nature.”
It starts with each of us.
Congratulations to Tuesday’s victors … may they serve with the integrity and honor of all those who defended our liberty.