Words from past can illuminate our future

Published 7:26 pm Friday, September 27, 2019

Try as we might, we cannot keep the toxic partisanship that is destroying our country relegated to Washington, D.C.

Our social media networks are overrun with it. Community groups, breakfast clubs and social gatherings often take jarring turns into incivility once the topic of politics is broached. Even locally, it permeates the fabric of our culture here in central Kentucky.

The national headlines and onslaught from the talking heads can send you reeling. The 24-hour news cycle and scandal-of-the-day reporting had me seeking the wisdom of some of our forefathers and other experts.

Email newsletter signup

Here are some timeless words that are just as applicable today as the day they were said or written.

It might be best to start with our first president.

“Much indeed to be regretted, party disputes are now carried to such a length, and truth is so enveloped in mist and false representation, that it is extremely difficult to know through what channel to seek it. This difficulty to one, who is of no party, and whose sole wish is to pursue with undeviating steps a path which would lead this country to respectability, wealth, and happiness, is exceedingly to be lamented. But such, for wise purposes, it is presumed, is the turbulence of human passions in party disputes, when victory more than truth is the palm contended for.”

George Washington wrote this in a letter dated July 27, 1795 — almost 225 years ago.

Tell me that doesn’t still ring true.

Revered statesman and fellow founding father Samuel Adams expressed similar views.

“A general dissolution of principles and manners will more surely overthrow the liberties of America than the whole force of the common enemy. While the people are virtuous they cannot be subdued; but when once they lose their virtue then will be ready to surrender their liberties to the first external or internal invader.”

Sound familiar?

Many an outsider’s perspective can be important.

“A party spirit betrays the greatest men to act as meanly as the vulgar herd.” — Jean de la Bruyere, French philosopher and author.

Professor Guillermo Jimenez made some great points in the decade-old book, “Red Genes, Blue Genes: Exposing Political Irrationality.”

“The conflict between left and right in modern republics is a sort of perpetual-motion mechanism and negative spiral at the same time. When we support political parties, it is regrettable more than just a matter of adopting certain political beliefs. We are also expected to agree that our party’s beliefs are better than those held by the other party,” he wrote. “Feelings of hostility and superiority are an inevitable byproduct of partisan competition. The media encourages representatives of both sides to vent their emotions, because this sells newspapers and boosts ratings. When we hear that other disagree viscerally with us, we tend to return the feeling of emotional dislike.”

This pretty much sums up almost everyone’s social media feed.

Charles Krauthammer, a conservative political columnist who won the Pulitzer Prize for his column, may have best summed up the political ideology that divides our country right now, perhaps more than ever before.

“To understand the workings of American politics, you have to understand this fundamental law: Conservatives think liberals are stupid. Liberals think conservatives are evil.”

These words from the past can provide us some context for the challenges we face as nation. Now we have to work to use this wisdom to build a more unified future.

Michael Caldwell is publisher of The Advocate-Messenger and Danville Living magazine. He can be reached at (859) 469-6400 or by email at mike.caldwell@centralkynews.com.