Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Legacy of President Washington

Res Publica
The Legacy of President Washington
by David Trumbull -- February 15, 2013
I "am persuaded, whatever partiality may be retained for my services, that, in the present circumstances of our country, you will not disapprove my determination to retire."
-- George Washington, in 1796, announcing his intention to retire after two terms as President.

Monday is WASHINGTON’S BIRTHDAY, a federal and state holiday to honor the hero of the Revolutionary War, the Father of His Country, and the first President of the United States. Much has been said and written about Washington's character, and his influence, for the good, on the founding, and maintaining in its first years, of our Republic. In particular, it has been noted that Washington's decision to step down voluntarily, rather than serve as President for Life, revealed not merely his personal humility, but his deep trust in our Republican form of government. Washington was persuaded that our Constitution, which he calls "sacredly obligatory upon all," would always guarantee that we'd be a free people. And so shall we be, so long as the people hold our officials bound to their oaths to uphold the Constitution.

Of the 43 men to serve as chief executive of the Union, only Washington is so singled out for honor with a federal holiday. That many persons now call the third Monday in February "Presidents Day" is an indicator of our lack of discrimination and devaluing of true accomplishment and fame. To put it in perspective, Catholics believe that each of the 265 popes was the Vicar of Christ on Earth, infallible in matters of faith and morals, and yet fewer than 80 have been added to the calendar of saints. No less erudite writer than Dante Alighieri placed some of the popes in Hell. "He who made the great refusal" in Canto 3 of Dante Inferno is general considered to be Pope Celestine V. Celestine's abdication of the Throne of Peter in 1294 was, in the view of Dante, an abdication of his responsibility to the Church and shirking of his duty to God. It lead to the election of Pope Boniface VIII, in Dante's opinion, a very bad Pope.

Washington's refusal to continue in office was anything but a shirking of duty. He knew that under our Constitution the President may change, but the People always are sovereign. He fulfilled his responsibility to the People, first by his conduct as President, and, finally, with his Farewell Address. It is his treatise on how to maintain the free popular government we enjoy as Americans. Every America should read and reflect on Washington's sage advice in that speech.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

"Happy Holidays!"

Res Publica
"Happy Holidays!"
by David Trumbull -- February 8, 2013

No, this column is not two months late. Nor will you find in it a word against the heartily shouted greetings of "Merry Christmas," "Happy Chanukah," or even "Saturnalia optima" that fill, or ought to fill, the air during the twelfth month of the year. Yes, December may be queen among the months as regards holidays, but February makes up for its lack of days with an abundance of festive occasions.

This year February brings, beginning on the 13th, that most unfestive of seasons, lent. But that comes after rowdy carnival time, culminating in Shrove Tuesday. And mid-month Valentine's Day reminds us, in the words of Irving Berlin, to "Be Careful, It's My Heart." That song is one of the many delightful Berlin confections in the 1942 talking picture, Holiday Inn. The picture plays on television every December showcasing the "mega-hit" White Christmas" as introduced by Bing Crosby. And well it should. But it merits a viewing any season, not the least for three big production numbers set in February.

In addition to the charming Valentine's Day offering previously mentioned, the film gives us Berlin's "Abraham," and heart-felt song-and-dance salute to the Great Emancipator (February 12th). "Der Bingle" in blackface rightly offends our politically correct sensibilities today. But at the time the picture was made, when African Americans were, by law, treated as inferior citizens in many of our States and even in our armed services, having major white stars celebrating the end of Negro slavery was quite enlightened. It reminds us that the quest for freedom and equality for all Americans has taken many years and continues as we learn to value each person for his unique worth.

February, and the movie Holiday Inn, have yet another treat for us. The witty, if just a bit precious, Washington's Birthday (February 22nd) number follows the theme of young George's fabled honesty --as recorded (invented?) by Parson Weems. The Berlin song is: "I Can't Tell a Lie."

Berlin, a Russian Jew who arrived as boy in America practically penniless, went on to be the most successful, and most American, of song-writers. He loved America for the unprecedented freedom she affords to every American, native-born or naturalized. And he understood the power of music both to admonish people to love what is good about our country and to move them to work to improve whatever is lacking in our national character.

Next weekend as you enjoy the long Washington's Birthday (or Presidents Day) weekend, take time to reflect on our history, on our current greatness, and consider how you will contribute to making our future even better.