In the spirit of President’s Day, and in the wake of all the chaos going on in the city named after him, it seems a fitting time to ask #WWGWD? Really, What Would George Washington Do? On this day honoring his and Lincoln’s birthdays, we seem more inclined to look at the sixteenth over the first president, but when things go awry, it’s always best to go back to the basics, which in this case is the First President and Father of Our Country, GW himself.
Luckily, John Avlon published a book just this year (2017) entitled Washington’s Farewell – The Founding Father’s Warning to Future Generations. George Washington, the president most noted in my learnings for keeping his mouth tightly shut so as not to show his teeth, is so prescient that he’s freakishly almost a Nostradamus of current political times.
Things to learn about GW from the book:
- Media Discomfort: From the beginning, there was no media honeymoon. Washington called the media “infamous scribblers,” and the early media was extremely partisan. But unlike his current successor, he believed in the value of the media as the fourth leg (ok fourth estate) in the four-legged stool of the checks and balances so critical in a democratic society.
- Constitutional Skepticism: As a Founding Father, Washington was as close as anyone to the mission, goals and values of the Constitution. Unlike many strict constitutionalists today, he did not consider the document perfect or “infallible.” It was merely the best it could be for the time and better than anything prior.
- Direct Communicator: Newspapers were the social media of that time. When it came time to give his Farewell Address, he did not give it to Congress to present forward to their constituents. That was considered too king-like — kings addressing Parliaments. Instead, he published his address in a newspaper so it could be read and disseminated as directly to the people as possible. Today, he very well may have taken to Twitter.
- Unity Over Partisanship. Washington believed in national unity and was vehemently opposed to hyper-partisanship. For today’s Bernie forces, it’s interesting to note that Washington was not only our first president, but our first independent president, not belonging to any party as parties had not yet been formed.
Avlon calls the Farewell Address civic scripture. Others might just call it common sense — which we all know is never common. Either way, it’s a fascinating and surprisingly easy read with short chapters in an age increasingly meeting GW’s worst fears. How much grander a nation we would be if instead of falling short, we were closer to meeting his inspiring vision for our collective future.
On page 42 Avlon writes: “Sometimes history turns on a hinge.” It wasn’t written to LittleHinges, but does inspire us. When looking for hinge actions that can make a positive difference, sometimes it is worth looking backwards for inspiration. There’s no better place to start than with Washington. Hinge Actions Steps to consider for moving forward:
- Read Washington’s Farewell and talk about it with friends.
- Support the media. Either subscribe to a newspaper, any newspaper, or at least do not become a media basher. See John McCain’s interview segment on2/18/17 with Chuck Todd of Meet the Press on the value of a free press and how dictators get started.
- Look into NoLabels.org, a 501(c)3 organization dedicated to finding centrist areas for political agreement. On the same site, sign up for the NoLabels “Fix not Fight” bumper magnet and put it on your car. Then, engage in conversations when people ask you what it means.
- Look into #ResistanceRecess events in your local area as opportunities to talk to your representative or senator. Even if you don’t attend an event, learn how groups are becoming increasingly engaged in asking questions directly to their elected officials. Lest you think these events are for Progressives only, see the Rachel Maddow interview with Tara Burnette, a Republican school teacher who voted for her two Republican senators and is calling for town hall meetings with them.
- Before you take a stand on any issue, think WWGWD (What Would George Washington Do?) We might not really know, but it’s certainly worth considering.