Commentary: America needs a Golden Age

Richard W. Hoover

I wrote earlier about the angry tone of present American politics. With more space, I might have pointed out warnings from the ancients — Roman philosopher Seneca’s assertion, for example, that anger necessarily leads to irrationality that, in turn, may cause the wheels to fly off the chariot of state!

Looking ahead to January 2017, America needs a president who can provide a good, peaceful and productive interlude, who can cool us all down, can end our nasty partisan divide by reconciling what today seems irreconcilable.

History gives examples of such leadership. Roman emperor Trajan, for example, repaired the destructive divisions that had characterized the reigns of his angry and brutal predecessors [Caligula, Nero, Domitian, et al]. Principally, he reconciled four seemingly irreconcilable groups that had been at each other’s throats — the emperor and his government, the Senate, the army and the common citizenry. Trajan’s principate is still remembered as a Golden Age, one that was produced by his affability, respect and generosity — virtues that unfortunately seem in dwindling supply in Washington.

And the same phenomenon can occur in the United States whenever a sense of national unity and purpose trumps personal, sectional, economic and social partisanship. Take, for example, the Era of Good Feelings. To make a long and complex story short, President James Monroe skillfully united the country by down-playing the importance of political affiliation when making his nominations for office. He sought politically disinterested candidates who would be seen to act exclusively in the national interest. He worked hard to promote peaceful compromises — take, for example, the Missouri Compromise of 1820 that maintained a power balance between the free and the slave states. Further, he turned his own party into an inclusive, “big tent” political force. As often noted, Monroe was viewed as the “leader of a nation, not of a political party.”

How can we travel in this direction in the 2015/2016 presidential campaign season? [And here I will probably lose every friend I have on Earth, whether coming from the left or the right!].

First, let’s nominate candidates for presiden — Trajans and James Monroes — who unite, not divide. A bare-majority presidential victory in 2016, one that leaves half the nation ebullient and the other half in agony, is no victory for the country; rather, it spells the continuation of present misery and paralysis! Some pundits even predict that the joy of winning will come less from the triumph of any particular candidate or issue, but from winners beholding the agony of losers. That’s no way to love and guard a country!

Instead, let’s look for candidates who appear politically disinterested, who would act by first developing a national consensus to support them and who could be trusted to work single-mindedly for American interests at home and abroad. At this early point in the campaign season, I’m not prepared to say whether either party has come up with such potentially unifying candidates. I do advise, however, that Republicans and Democrats had better start looking a lot harder!

Second, we must somehow find compromises, must reconcile positions that have been heretofore irreconcilable. Take immigration, for example. Contrary to far right views, it may not be possible to round up and deport all 15 million people who live in or have entered America illegally  [whatever that number may be]. Contrary to far left views, it may be possible stop a bad situation from getting worse by enforcing America’s borders and quickly deporting those here illegally who are an economic/social burden. I think that unbiased and effective presidential leadership could form a decisive national consensus to act along these lines.

Well, then, lined up next to immigration is a whole convoy of other prominent issues that are controversial and hanging fire that await consensus-based handling by [God willing] a presidential leader-unifier in 2017. These range from the national debt and foreign policy (the Middle East/Russia/ China), to defense, refugee resettlement, guns, health care, and Justice Department handling of the local police.

Without national consensus and unity, the government’s handling of these issues will continue to produce, as it does right now, national tension and anger. Particularly divisive is what is seen as the White House’s attempted resolution of controversial issues, unilaterally, by executive order. No, the next president must act to bring the nation together. America needs an interlude, a Golden Age.

Richard Hoover is a retired Foreign Service officer who resides in southern Warren County.