Lin-Manuel Miranda for freaking President already. He’s already more qualified than Donald Trump.
The two basic jobs of the President are 1) conduct foreign policy in the national interest and 2) shape the national debate and national narrative. You could always be TR/FDR/LBJ and be good at building Congressional coalitions to pass major domestic reforms, but that’s not part of the job description. Leave that to Congressional leaders.
It’s darn easy to outsource foreign policy to Foggy Bottom and the Pentagon, which leaves “Story-Teller-in-Chief” as the primary thing the President, the Face of the Nation, is supposed to be.
LMM’s storytelling capacities are beyond compare and he is one heck of a good American. Who’s to say he wouldn’t put his annual State of the Union to music, like he did to the Farewell Address in the musical? “Hamilton” reveals how serious and deep a person he is too, yet his public image reveals how “good a guy” he is simultaneously.
He’s socially liberal enough that liberals worship him and he’s an apostle of the Founders so conservatives should be able to stomach him. He takes the American story and tells it in modern words.
That’s what we need. Not a technocratic hyperliberal like Hillary, and not a reactionary populist demagogue like Trump. We need someone to tell America’s story to America and the world, to remind us who we are.
Lin-Manuel for President.
In light of the recent and simultaneous “revelations” about Trump on sexism and Clinton on bank speeches, here’s my hot take.
You can basically vote Trump and side with White Populism, vote Clinton and side with Liberal Globalism, or vote your conscience, third partiers, and forsake your right to complain about whoever wins because you didn’t block them.
Trump voters- is White Populism REALLY better than Liberal Globalism?
Clinton voters- sure it’s better than White Populism, but do you REALLY want to be associated with Liberal Globalism and the corrupt neoliberal overclass right as the public’s faith in our institutions is tanking and those institutions are crumbling?
Voting against one means voting for the other. You can either be for White Populism, or for Liberal Globalism.
Or you can throw away your vote and right to complain about the outcome and vote third party (like me voting for Colin Powell.) but if you do vote for some idiot like Johnson or Stein or McMullin, or for some Real American Hero like Vermin Supreme or Colin Powell, and you vote your enlightened conscience, you’ll be guilty of not blocking the election of either Trump or Clinton and thus won’t have any real right to complain about either being President. Can you stand that? Does your conscience matter so much to you that you’ll give up the ability to actually influence events?
Same with just not voting.
So you have three bad choices- vote White Populist, vote Liberal Globalist, or vote in such a way that your vote doesn’t count. If you’re not slightly concerned about your choice (and you must make one of these three choices) you probably don’t have many good ideas about how to move the country forward. If you’re concerned and guilted about your choice, you probably will be somewhat more useful as the impending crisis storms through.
Three bad options? None you’d be proud of?
Then stop being so self righteous, so messianic, so certain, so fascistic about how right you are about politics. Politics is tragedy; politics is about making the least bad choice; politics is about keeping people from destroying each other, not building a better world. It’s not a black and white affair and it should not be discussed as one.
And by the way, all this applies to me- I’m not asking anybody anything I wouldn’t already expect of myself. (Especially because I’m throwing away my vote and right to complain by writing in Colin Powell.)
My mind has been returning again and again to religion as a concept these last few weeks, and an idea I’ve held for some time keeps coming to the fore. Namely, that “religion” is a far wider concept than most hold it to be, and influences political and social life more deeply than most would care to admit.
Functional Religion Vs. Theological Religion
First, we should distinguish between two conceptions of religion: Functional, and Theological. Theological Religion is what comes to mind for most people when they think of the world’s great religions- Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, and all their infinite permutations, along with more traditional animisms and paganisms from pre-modern times which, occasionally, still survive to this day. Theological Religion deals explicitly with the metaphysical- who or what is God or Gods? What do they want us to do? What is their nature? Are they even there? Atheism, as we moderns know it, typically positions itself as a rational refutation of all forms of Theological Religion.
But some would note that “atheists” and “secularists” since the dawn of the modern era have oftentimes acted “religiously” in ways that even true believers in the Theological Religions would find pious- fighting and dying for nations and ideologies, supporting panhuman causes of universal human dignity, embarking on great quests of social reform, and more. It would almost seem that religious behavior, if not religion itself, is integral to human social nature.
There’s an easy explanation for this, I think. Since secularism and the refutation of Theological Religion as an organizing principle of public life has grown in the West since the Enlightenment, there has been a concomitant rise in another phenomenon, which I will call here Functional Religion.
Functional Religion, by my definition, is basically any widely-held set of social-moral beliefs that meets three criteria:
- It deals with absolute right and wrong.
- It deals with questions of individual and social human nature.
- It has implications and recommendations beyond the believing individual, reaching out to society as a whole.
This is to say, Functional Religions- like, say, Liberal Modernity, Communism, Nationalism, Environmentalism, and any other of the vast number of social belief systems that meet these three criteria- operate functionally more or less like Islam did for the Arab societies of the 7th Century, like Confucianism did for China for so many centuries, like Protestant Christianity did for many of the post-Reformation European states. They provide individuals and societies with a sense of moral purpose around which to order themselves and behave, and an analytic lens by which to examine and approach timeless questions and timely debates. Marx and Rousseau, in this regard, are prophets to the same degree that Jesus, Mohammed, and Buddha were.
The Epistemology of Functional Religion
This view of Functional Religion as a natural human social phenomenon, of course, rests on a couple of assumptions. The most important of these are:
- Human beings are partly rational and partly spiritual beings.
- There is some form of ultimate reality, but human consciousness can only sense and interpret it- never understand or create it.
- All human interpretations of this ultimate reality are therefore social constructions, necessarily contingent on social and intellectual conditions around the time of their practice and creation.
- All Functional Religions, therefore, are complex amalgamations of universal truth and social construction, and all have some claim on truth while none have a full claim on truth. Any attempts to lay full claim on truth seem to have social consequences resulting mostly in tyranny or persecution, such as the Inquisition, the Reign of Terror, and the purges of the Fascists and Communists in the 20th
I come at this question from a philosophically Skeptical point of view, yet a Universalist conception of moral and spiritual reality- an odd mix of David Hume’s Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding and C.S. Lewis’s universalist pretensions in the Appendix of The Abolition of Man. Hume teaches that human understanding is always limited and incapable of reaching universal truth; Lewis teaches that there are basic universal moral instincts sewn and sown into the human breast, which inform all moral thought.
Marry these two conceptions together, and you get a rejection of Jacobin-style moral universalism on the one hand, and a rejection of postmodern relativism on the other. There is universal truth and order in the chaos, somewhere out there, and we can know it’s there; we can’t, however, know exactly what it is or how to live it. Every human attempt at understanding it- which will always happen, because societies will always strive to justify and know themselves- will always be necessarily limited, but fruitful. We will never know truth, but we will always approach it.
This approaches something like the understanding the philosopher Isaiah Berlin attempted to convey in his essay, “A Message to the 21st Century-“ that there is a truth out there, but that there will always be different interpretations of it simply due to human social nature, and that we must never delve into universalistic hubris and must always tolerate the dissent of heretics. It’s not pure rationalism; but neither is it pure relativism. It’s hard to pin down, which, perhaps, may be why it’s hard to turn into a political program.
Examples of Functional Religion in Modern History
I won’t pretend to be able to list and categorize every single brand of functional religion out there across modern history, any more than any scholar of theological religion would attempt to list and categorize every theological religion out there. There are a couple of examples, however, which stick out, and are worth examining and illustrating conceptually at some length here. Like the Theological Religions, they each have their holy texts, their quasi-theological disagreements, their high priests and laymen, their excommunications and heresies, and the like. Unlike the Theological Religions, they do not view themselves as explicitly religious- but, in my view, are so nonetheless.
Though something like Nationhood or Nationalism has probably existed from time immemorial, with pan-tribal identities being churned into states, Nationalism as we moderns know it really is a product of the Enlightenment and therefore a child of Modernity (which is a religion in itself.) Its basic tenets are simple- that small-to-midsized groups of people share enough in common that they are uniquely one, that they are bound together by shared heritage and experience, usually sacrifice, that their symbols define that heritage and experience and are therefore sacred, and that there are distinct boundaries between a nation’s kinsfolk and foreign “others.”
Not every nation has nationalism, but those that do feel it strongly. The heads of state of these countries normally are in some ways religious leaders or figureheads, too- witness the semi-spiritual symbolism of the President of the United States or the Queen of England. More importantly, the citizens of these countries will oftentimes fight and die for the nation and its ideals- something that, a millennium ago, was reserved almost exclusively for communities defined by faith, as kingdoms normally had their own religious practices.
The elevation of nationhood to sacred status is one of the most interesting things about modernity, and it is best illustrated by the revered nature of heads of state and the sacrificial nature of patriotism. Unlike many faiths, though, nationalism is by its own nature parochial, not universal. It would be helpful to analyze some universalist Functional Religions, too.
One such universalist Functional Religion is Communism, Communism being that school of social thought and body of historical practice defined by the works of the prophets Marx and Engels, among others, and the life-works of various warrior-prophets like Lenin and Mao.
Communism has (or had, as its star has mostly faded now) a philosophy of history unique to itself- a complex theory of economic revolutions precipitating social revolutions with political consequences, inexorably marching forward towards a grand new utopian future. True Communists believed that this process was happening naturally and that the purpose of true believers was to help bring it about as vanguards in the various regions of the world afflicted by late-stage Capitalism, where the revolutions would most likely soon occur.
Like Nationalism, many true believers fought and died for Communism, and its high priests led its march across Eurasia with a crusading religious fervor. They believed in the universal application of Communist ideas, given that it was a natural historical process rather than an “ideology,” in their view. This combination of factors- a unique epistemology of historical progress and right and wrong, a devoutly personal attachment to the broader social cause, and a complex social organization of Communist institutions resembling the Church bureaucracies of old- puts Communism squarely in the tradition of functional religions, and probably the second most influential of all those of the modern period.
The most influential functional religion of the modern period, though, is the one that informs most of us (and certainly animates our political and social elites) nowadays in the 21st Century. That functional religion might be called “Liberal Modernity-“ it is an amalgamation of ideas about human equality, social progress, and international integration that expresses itself in the progressivism of most social discourse nowadays. It generally accepts internationalism and the neoliberal conceptions of free markets coupled with public social safety nets, and has a decidedly feminist and multicultural bent on social issues.
Liberal Modernity has its high priests- the purveyors of culture in media and the academy- as well as its rituals and holy texts. Most would not even consider it to be a functional religion, thinking of it instead as simply the natural way things are supposed to be- which further underscores its religious nature, given that it deals with a society’s basic conceptions of right and wrong and has serious implications for social structure and policy.
There are many schools of Liberal Modernity- for example, the Liberal Modernity of neoconservative foreign policy elites differs from that of Silicon Valley tech oligarchs- but generally these are mere doctrinal differences. The belief in human progress, human equality, and cultural cosmopolitanism informs educated elites and publics across the West, and Western-educated elites in most parts of the developing world. Liberal Modernity is, in this sense, a truly global religion, and as such it is the basic creed of one of the world’s global institutions of governance- the United Nations.
The United Nations vs. the Nations, the Papacy vs. the Kingships
Liberal Modernity very much informs the educated elites who staff and fund the United Nations and the ecosystem of social-progress and internationalism-oriented NGO’s and foundations across the world. The UN’s founding documents, in fact, even testify to the human-universalist nature of the UN’s world mission.
As such, the UN is often the butt of criticism from more Nationhood-minded elites and publics across the world, especially in the developing world but increasingly within the West, too. While some would call this a quintessentially modern phenomenon, it seems to me that there is a direct historical parallel to the UN’s universalism versus the nations’ parochialism- the history of the relationship between the Roman Catholic Church and its client kingdoms, particularly from the late Middle Ages through the beginnings of the Renaissance.
In essence, the Roman Catholic Church was a Christendom-spanning political institution premised on regulating relationships between Christian states and encouraging their progress towards Catholic social teaching. It often took on political initiatives and military campaigns on its own regard, ostensibly for the good of Christendom as a whole, sometimes with its own initiatives in mind. Its legitimacy was founded upon the Papacy- the Church’s connection as a whole to the life of Jesus Christ through Peter, the first Pope. In Medieval Europe, a largely Catholic society, the Church’s authority was very real, and oftentimes conflicted with the constituent kingdoms despite the doctrine of “Render unto Caesar” that otherwise made clear the distinction between religious obligation and political obligation. These dividing lines were not really cleared until after the Reformation and the Hundred Year’s War, with the strict enforcement of local religious choice made in the Peace of Westphalia.
Fast-forward a couple of centuries, and you have the United Nations- a Liberal Modernity-spanning political institution premised on regulating relationships between modern liberal states and encouraging their progress towards Liberal Modern norms. It takes on political initiatives and military campaigns on its own regard, ostensibly for the good of humanity as a whole, sometimes with its own initiatives in mind. Its legitimacy was founded upon the Universal Declaration of Human Rights- the UN’s quasi-spiritual statement of the most important truths of political reality. In the modern world, the UN’s authority is very real, sometimes conflicting with the imperatives of its member states. The dividing lines of sovereignty are often muddy, and never quite clear.
Though the United Nations and the Roman Catholic Church both are and were political institutions, they were animated and justified by a primarily religious sensibility that is, in many respects, quite similar in both situations. Moreover, the religious sensibility animating the Church and the UN is in most ways equally legitimate to the nationhood and kingship that informed and informs the teachings of both institutions’ respective client states. As such, the contest between international authority and national sovereignty is not solely a question of institutional turf-fighting- it is in many ways a religious conflict, based on conflicting loyalties to universalist religion and parochial religion. We should expect that some similar form of tension will exist so long as the Western international system is around.
The Root of History
Some would say geopolitics or some other material factor is the most important source of historical direction, or that money is the greatest imperative for human action. I would disagree- to me, it seems clear that religion– not merely Theological Religion, but Functional Religion as well- is the primary determinant, given that it informs individuals’ and societies’ beliefs about who they are and what they are supposed to do. Geopolitical and economic calculations set the boundaries of what can do, but functional religions set our sights on what we hope to do, which is the driving cause of action among societies and individuals alike.
Therefore, to understand why human societies behave as they do, it is not sufficient merely to understand their environments and physical histories, though this is important too. Far more important is understanding their cultures, their social structures, their myths and legends and the stories they tell themselves, and the goals towards which they are oriented. This knowledge of social soul will speak much about the in-the-moment decisions cultures make, alongside their long-term motivations and goals. Material concerns might shape these, but not drive them. Both are important to understand; but if it came down to a choice, understand the minds and cultures first, every time. Getting the religion, particularly the Functional Religion, correct, is the first step to understanding why peoples do what they do.
I wrote this letter to my Dad while he was deployed abroad. It dealt with some ideas I’d been wrestling with for some time, namely on paths to public influence in the intellectual and political realms. He, and my mentor Dan Schnur, whom I sent a copy to also, both seemed to think this is a good and proper way forward; I therefore move forward on this path.
You know, mentors of mine have suggested to me that I consider getting into one of the trades- business, law, consulting, etc.- so that I can become as financially independent as possible, and so that I can learn and master the dealmaking, money-managing, and negotiation skills necessary for successful political life. It’s not a bad set of ideas, and I’m not closed to the notion.
That said, the more I study great heroes of mine, the more I realize that this is not necessarily the only path to influence, and though it may perhaps be the easiest path to influence, it is certainly not the one I am most suited for. Four heroes of mine and two contacts of mine would seem to demonstrate this with their career paths they have followed.
Theodore Roosevelt was many things- a scholar, a soldier, a public servant in government, a politician, an adventurer. He was never a businessman, a lawyer, or a consultant.
Winston Churchill was many things- a journalist, a soldier, a public servant in government, a politician. He was never a businessman, a lawyer, or a consultant.
Henry Kissinger was many things- a scholar, a political advisor involved in Republican politics, a soldier, a public servant in government. He was never a businessman, lawyer, or consultant (until after his peak of influence.)
Daniel Patrick Moynihan was many things- a scholar, a sailor, a political advisor involved in Democratic politics, a public servant in government, a politician. He was never a businessman, lawyer, or consultant.
Moving forward to today, two contacts of mine- my boss Joel Kotkin, and my contact Robert D. Kaplan, are similarly situated (though without the political involvement.)
Joel Kotkin is many things- a scholar, a journalist, a political advisor and policy consultant who advises city governments and centrist politicians.
Robert D. Kaplan is many things- a scholar, a journalist, a political advisor and policy consultant who advises the defense and foreign policy communities.
All this being said, some things are clear to me:
First, that you can attain high positions in government, either political or departmental, without being a businessman, lawyer, or consultant, and while being nothing but a writer and a politician (though it helps to be a military officer.)
Second, that Kissinger and Moynihan were scholars of another era, and that scholars of this era- such as Kaplan and Kotkin- can be highly original and influential without necessarily being PhD’s or attending graduate school.
Third, that it is at least somewhat possible to make enough money to be financially independent as a writer, a journalist, and a scholar, and there is nothing in that field barring me from political involvement or government service such as Roosevelt and Churchill, Kissinger and Moynihan, or Kotkin and Kaplan have done.
So, I think I know how I can move forward, given that I love writing, scholarship, and journalism, and political involvement, and that I aspire to government service of some sort and am in the process of entering military service.
First, I must graduate…
Second, I must emulate the careers of Joel Kotkin and Robert D. Kaplan to some degree- continue my opinion journalism work and establish myself as a public writer, continue my scholarly work and establish myself as a public thinker, perhaps by writing a book, and continue my political involvement, hopefully by assisting and eventually advising political figures and even government figures. There are several avenues for this; I could enter into a PhD program, I could work at a think-tank, magazine, newspaper, or other entity, I could work for some politician. These spots are rarer in California than in DC, but I’m sure I can find something. There is also always the prospect that I can become a Park Ranger or Forest Ranger.
Third, I must continue my involvement with public life so far as is possible. That involves continuing my transition into the National Guard, continuing my activism in the California Republican Party (and deepening it, once I graduate and find my new home) and perhaps serving in government as an aide or running for local or state office.
Fourth, I must maintain relationships with people who can help me do all of these things, and build relationships with people who can help me do more of these things.
Fifth, I must figure out what, precisely, I am going to specialize my journalism and scholarship in. This could range anywhere from American political philosophy to American history, though I will certainly cast a broad net of interests even as I specialize in one in particular. I’m considering writing a project on the political, geopolitical, and developmental economic history of California; writing on that could help me specialize in California history, politics, and policy in the present day, and make me an expert in something others do not have expertise in. Then, I still would likely continue writing on broader American and even world history; but a well-done project on California geopolitics in an American and international geopolitical context could rocket me further into the ranks of known writers and thinkers.
Sixth, I must maintain my character, purpose, personality, and life balance throughout all this, since the combination of journalism, scholarship, political advisory, political involvement, government service, and military service I seek to live will certainly be draining even if it is fulfilling. Political life, in particular, has the potential to sap my character, and I therefore must cultivate it that it may weather all political storms. Aside from moral and religious cultivation, this must involve life balance, to include adventure, family and friend life, community involvement such as Scouting and church, recreational study, and other “hobbies” and avocations. Perhaps it is time I got back into ecology, botany, and poetry.
Just as Roosevelt and Churchill were warrior-scholar-statesmen, so I can be. I am already on that path; I need only continue it.
Thanks for always advising me and caring for me, and see you when you get back from Kuwait and I get back from California!
Last month it occurred to me that I might be a bit more organized in my life if I wrote down everything I’m committed to doing and had it in front of me for frequent reference. The realization that this would be useful came while I was speaking with a mentor of mine, the historian of the moderate Republicans Geoffrey Kabaservice. He asked me if I could name five fun things I’d done over the summer, and I couldn’t name any; and I realized that I should probably explicitly make time for non-professional things in my busy schedule, something that would be made easier by knowing what, exactly, my priorities were. A later conversation with another mentor and former boss, Adam Garfinkle (Editor of The American Interest) on the subject of life balance through handiwork and craftwork alongside mind-work reiterated the point.
Below, in no particular order, are the various activities and commitments occupying my time as of my 23rd birthday, September 10th 2016. It’s more a projected list of how I intend to spend my time than an accurate list of what I’ve done with my time, if that says anything about my priorities and aspirations. Some might note that this is a neurotic exercise something like Ben Franklin’s ‘Art of Virtue’ plan described beautifully in the Autobiography; it very much is.
Luke Phillips Life Balance 2016-2017
Classes at USC
-Breakthrough Generation Application
-2018 Campaigns and Politicos Networking
-Nixon Library Job application
Personal Political Study and Writing
-Reading Books on politics, economics, history, philosophy, culture, etc.
-Reading Articles on the same
-Preparing to Write Books and Essays preparation
Publications to Contribute To Monthly or Bimonthly (projected)
-Glimpse From the Globe
-The American Interest /perhaps National Affairs and The American Conservative
-Republic 3.0, Washington Monthly
-AHA Society Blog
Professional Research and Writing
-Nixon Library Projects
-Joel Kotkin/Center for Opportunity Urbanism Projects
-John Hay Initiative Projects
-Neighborhood Legislature Campaign Work
-CAGOP and LAGOP events
-Special Forces Tryouts Preparation…
-Church every week
-Read Catholic and Christian thinkers, the Bible
Socializing and Conversation
-Coffee with people
-Maintain letters with some pen pals
-Pacific Crest Trail Crew
-Therapy and Meds
In which I ignore what little prudence I have, and set out to piss people off
To a Mentor-
I wrote up this little reflection on my ambitions, initially for my blog and Facebook, but am now unsure whether or not I’ll share it publicly. I think I have important things for people in here to hear, but it would be uppity and arrogant rather than sage and wise for 22-year old me to counsel my friends to be Noble Romans of Old.
Who knows, by the time you read this I might have jumped the shark and shared it and started taking flak already. But I just figured, since you’re my primary political mentor, that I should send you my thoughts on the subject of what I want to do with my life and how that relates to my personal development.
So I keep getting the “Luke do you want to be President” kind of questions over and over again and I keep giving my same standard self-deprecating canned response: “God save the country if that ever happens.” Sometimes I tell people my true ambitions and say “no but I want to be the Alexander Hamilton to someone’s George Washington.” Sometimes I go a bit deeper and say “I want to be the kind of person about whom people ask ‘is he going to run for President?'”
But I’ve been reflecting on it deeper and deeper, and realized something that’s been driving me for a while. And I would not trust people who were not driven by the same force, with the reins of public life (hence my antipathy to Trump and Clinton, as well as Gary Johnson.)
Since FDR, arguably since Lincoln, and probably since the days of George Washington himself, we’ve inhabited a Presidency-heavy constitutional system- in the White House has been vested the symbolic sanctity of the Union and Republic, of our Liberty itself. It’s always been a lot more than a mere administrative or policy-advocacy office. It’s been a Cincinnatian, perhaps at times a Catonian or Ciceronian office of republican splendor. The President, for better or for worse, has been the face of the nation.
In the last century it has increasingly become an Imperial Presidency, overstepping the old constitutional boundaries that once precluded aspiring Lincolns and TRs from doing great things. That’s probably been for the best- with the sheer complexity of modern industrial society, it’s unclear how else we could have organized things. But that power must be exercised responsibly, with both history and posterity in mind.
And as the power and glory of the Presidency has increased, both in political fact and in the public imagination, so has increased the necessity of true greatness in the souls of those inhabiting the Oval Office. Greatness of the sort with which Cincinnatus, Cato, Cicero, and all those other dead white males would have been intimately familiar.
But partly because of the deconstructionist monstrosity of the fruits of the raging 60s, partly because of the emphasis of ideological principle over networked character that has characterized the parties since Goldwater and McGovern, and partly because of the increasing democratization and reformation of politics since Watergate, it’s been harder for men and women of the character of George Washington or Abraham Lincoln to ascend or even aspire to high office in our Republic. They’re there, but they tend to stick to unelected positions in the Military-Industrial Complex and the Commanding Heights of the economy. When they DO seek public office- and I would say the last two great examples were Daniel Patrick Moynihan and the John McCain of 2000- they’re either largely impotent (Moynihan) or they resort to selling their souls, principles, and character in fraught quests for power (hence McCain’s Palin desperation.)
America since midcentury has been fraught by various social conditions and political reforms that make the crucial mix of Thumos, Arete, and Pietas absolutely impossible in modern statesmen and stateswomen in power. Thus the decline of our politicians from Truman, Johnson, and Nixon (all jerks, but all exceptionally skilled and nonideological politicos) to Clinton, Bush, Obama, and Clinton again (all nice guys/gals, but not particularly competent politicos and certainly not great leaders.) Straight Talk Express McCain 2000 was the closest we got to greatness. It’s a tragedy he chose to change.
I’m not bemoaning the fall of the Republic- it isn’t forthcoming, even in the terror of the present crisis and the coming ones- but its health and glory are not served by the caliber of Presidents we have as options nowadays. And I think there’s a direct correlation between the increasingly ideologized, increasingly democratized politics of the early 21st Century, and the declining character and talent of our leaders.
So what’s the answer?
Quite simple really. We need old-fashioned republican statesmen and stateswomen updated for the 21st Century, “men/women with empires in their purpose and new eras in their brains/branching toward the skyey future, rooted in the fertile past,” who pay more than lip service to the great heroes of Americana- who pay tribute to them in their lives, choices, actions, and characters. Perhaps we need to make systemic reforms that encourage and incentivize such Roman Souls to enter the hubbub of democratic politics in an institutional Republic with the spirit of a Democracy; but ultimately their entry into the political process is their choice, not the result of machinations by people who want them in.
We need less people who want to be President of the United States, and more people who are worthy of being President of the United States.
So what’s my real ambition? What’s my real goal in public life? (Aside from “turn America into a great space-faring Republic, an Empire of the Stars?”)
To be worthy in my soul of assuming the office of President of the United States. Not to actually assume it- to desire assuming that office, particularly nowadays and at my age, is far more vainglorious than noble.
But to so cultivate my character, tend to my intellect, and master the craftsmanship of politics that, should my country ever call, I would be standing by, ready to act, a soul worthy of the stewardship of the Republic. That by no means means I want to be President- and I think our best public servants don’t- but it does mean that in whatever capacity I were serving the public, be it in our national economic apparatus, amid the defense and intelligence community, in the Cabinet or Congress or some statehouse- I would be a leader worthy of heeding my country’s call should it ever come.
In my view there are a few character traits and habits of mind that disqualify anyone from being such a worthy statesman or stateswoman, and I’m not sure that I don’t show them right now-
1-Basing your love of country off of a vision of a golden future or a return to a golden past, and lacking the moral nuance to accept the evil in your country’s heritage- and future- alongside the good. That is to say, being a conservative first and an American second, or a global citizen first and an American second. Conservatives, you need to accept Franklin Roosevelt as an American; Global Citizens, you need to accept Andrew Jackson.
2- Having “becoming President” or something as your primary goal, consciously or subconsciously, and “serving your country” as a second and related goal. No Man or Woman is born to rule. Trump, Hillary.
3- Not easily answering “yes” to “would you die for your country, your countrymen, and your flag?” That, and you need to mean it, and there are few things that suggest you mean it more than actually putting yourself on the line or preparing to put yourself on the line in some form of military service. Not to romanticize military life of course (DuffelBlog exists for a reason) but I continue to hold that it means a lot.
But let’s be real- “be worthy” (and I mean a very different word from “qualified”) is just as great a mountain to climb as “become President of the United States.” The qualities of character and soul requisite of worthiness are a lifetime’s work of action and a lifetime’s thought and reflection, not habits practicable after a week’s cultivation.
Perhaps I’m embarking on a quixotic quest seeking to be worthy. But I’d rather cultivate my soul and serve my country, and fail, than drain my soul and serve myself, and succeed.