Last week in his morning newsletter, American Spectator writer Daniel J. Flynn summed up the Trump years in a single paragraph. He ended it with these words:
Republicans evolved from invertebrates to vertebrates in the past four years. Donald Trump fights. It’s his best quality. It’s also, as America has learned since the election, his worst.
Flynn is a straight shooter, and he has mostly supported Trump because Trump has fought hard for things he holds dear. As a person of principle, he has not been afraid to criticize as well. For that he has taken flak, with the courage of one who has lived semper fidelis.
Flynn points to something we can verify in our daily experience wherever we may go. Our very worst traits nuzzle up close to our very best traits.
Douglas MacArthur’s daring and supreme self-confidence led him to the brilliant triumph of the Inchon amphibious assault in the Korean War. Mere months later, that same quality led him to a terrible defeat and headlong retreat after having ignored warnings that China would enter the fray and dividing his army.
In a less violent form of combat, Pete Carroll’s brilliant play-calling has brought him championships. But someone with lesser confidence in his brilliance would simply have given the Beast the ball to clinch the Super Bowl against the Patriots. Instead, he chose an unlikely pass play that was intercepted, and the Pats won.
Any human trait is capable of brilliant use and terrible abuse. Love can morph into obsession; righteousness can turn into intolerance; our greatest ideas can turn into rationalizations for our worst behavior.
It’s human reality. We are limited in intelligence, in physical strength, in inspiration — in everything. When we forget this, we build an idol. We presume that in this trait we are incapable of error.
Politics ruthlessly exposes this weakness, time and again. Even our greatest figures have on occasion believed they had something right that was in fact beyond them. Their greatness showed itself in their picking themselves up and learning from their mistakes.
King David is a great example from ancient politics and religion. The Bible does not hide his mistakes from our sight. It has a greater lesson in mind. We transcend our limitations by recognizing our overreach and learning how to do better. The world needs our strengths. We must learn to appreciate just what they are and to sharpen them through learning from our mistakes.
Our Founders enshrined freedom of religion in order to save religion from the overreach of powerful people. Without us being free to develop our relation with that which is beyond limitation, our own little truths will swiftly degenerate. Totalitarians build a cult of their leaders and violently suppress any other allegiance. There is no place for conscience in their world except in the form of meaningless propaganda. Josef Stalin promulgated a model constitution at the same time that he was engineering the deaths of tens of millions and the enslavement of many, many more. Ultimately their leader is divinized. Russian schoolchildren memorized this praise of the divine Lenin: “Lenin lived, Lenin lives, Lenin shall live!” He remained embalmed as the chief idol of the state.
It is our allegiance to ultimate truth that guides us away from this terrible tendency. If we can admit that ultimate truth is that which commands us and we do not command it, then we realize that even our greatest strength must not be used unless it is set in the context of the infinite.
We see this in Lincoln’s words about the horror of the Civil War, the humility he felt and towards which he pointed the nation, asking them to accept the blood being shed as that which was demanded for the blood taken by the slavemaster’s whip. The words were from the depth of his heart, and they inspired both a dedication to victory and a humility to seek afterwards peace and reconciliation.
We do not have a Lincoln today, but his insight is a legacy for us all. Let us come to our politics, as to all our relations, with an awareness of the incomplete nature of our gifts and even our greatest strengths. Somehow, we must find our way past the eternal arrogance of our egos to a larger vision that we know of — a politics in which we join our strengths with our fellow citizens, a debate in which we all look to a common center from different angles.
The truths we have realized must be conserved. The challenge of each day’s newness must be accepted as an inspiration rather than a curse. Both conservative and liberal must recognize the limitations of their ideologies, for all the good each may contain. The battle for good should unite us all.
And if our leaders and our governing class are not capable of this uniting vision, if they choose to tread the path of the tyrants, no matter how cleverly they conceal it, then we will keep it alive ourselves in whatever way we can. With courage and with a blessing from Above, we will see ourselves through the darkness to that which we know is better.
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That’s right, the Grinch (Joe Biden) is coming for your pocketbooks this Christmas season with record inflation. Just to recap, here is a list of items that have gone up during his reign.
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