During a sea battle in the War of 1812, as he lay dying in his quarters, Captain James Lawrence spoke his last words: “Don’t give up the ship.” For good or ill, his crew did exactly that as soon as Lawrence died. A few months later, though, commander Oliver Hazard Perry won a decisive victory in the Battle of Lake Erie, flying a flag that quoted Lawrence’s last words.
This quote, and its history of failure followed by success, came to my mind when a friend despaired of this election saga in a Facebook post, writing “I have no faith in my fellow Americans anymore.” I do and here’s why:
While some people have come unhinged during this very long election slog, I believe that our better natures will prevail once we are not constantly being wound up by a click-hungry, cynical news media that has abandoned responsibility to act in the public interest. We’ve been through worse, so don’t give up voting on election day.
At this risk of sounding preachy, I’ll say that this anti-intellectual, “we-hate-elites” strain in populism is what makes it so dangerous. Elite, educated thinkers like Franklin, Jefferson, Madison, and Hamilton founded this republic. Businessmen like Paul Revere and radicals like the Sons of Liberty had vital roles to play, but they did not have the global experience to lead the nation once the revolution was over.
We won the revolution because elites like Franklin, Adams, and Jefferson went over to France and negotiated an alliance. Shortly thereafter, the Constitution was built on compromise, even in the midst of fierce partisanship. We need radicals to shake us out of complacency and call our attention to injustice, but not to hold the reins of power, and certainly not to negotiate on behalf of the nation.
So Do Patience and Inclusion
Guys like Trump and Sanders offer quick and easy answers to problems within existing systems, but have no realistic ideas about how to actually fix things. As Trump says, he just wants to “blow up” Washington. Hillary Clinton is a reformer, not a radical. She’s good at building working partnerships and I believe she will lead us in making things better. True, change will be incremental, but that is better than a deadlocked government fueled by cable without conscience.
When vested powers feel threatened, they freak out and push back. That’s why the atmosphere is so venomous now. Going slow and being inclusive is tiresome and not everyone is cut out for it. Hillary Clinton is. And there are Republicans who are also. The reformers in both parties will find each other. So “be just and fear not” (Shakespeare, Henry VIII), and be sure to vote.