A group of American patriots met in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776, to sign a document declaring independence from the British Crown. The signers ended the Declaration of Independence, saying “we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” They knew that formation of a new nation was dangerous and could only succeed if everyone worked together in common purpose. As Ben Franklin aptly put it, “We must all hang together, or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”
Years later, George Washington reiterated the theme of unity and common purpose in his Farewell Address. He said, “To the efficacy and permanency of your Union, a Government for the whole is indispensable.” He issued a strong warning against political partisanship, saying it “agitates the Community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection.” What a prescient warning from America’s Founding Father.
At this 245th anniversary of declaring independence, the nation is mired in political warfare, false conspiracy theories and, worst of all, an attempted insurrection. America achieved greatness by its people working together to forge a more perfect union. There have been many bumps along the way but we have always been able to right the ship of state and move forward in unity.
The last three decades have seen the development of such extreme political partisanship that the future of the American experiment is seriously threatened. Parties in Congress vote in lock step. The mantra of the party that does not hold the presidency is to make the current occupant of the office fail, even if it causes the country to also fail.
It does not have to be this way. I’ve witnessed a Congress where members worked in harmony to perform important work, despite strongly conflicting political views. I spent three years (1970-1973) working for a Republican Senator in Washington. It was a job that made me proud of my country. Senators and their staffs worked with one another across party lines to do the people’s business. There were certainly disagreements over policy but not the acrimonious exchanges that are commonplace today, not the poisonous process that is the daily gruel of the present-day Congress. There was a real ethos of putting country over party during those years.
My boss, Idaho’s Senator Len Jordan, was a commonsense conservative, who had the courage to do the right thing as he saw it. Although he supported his party when its objective aligned with his beliefs, he always put the interests of America over those of his party. Many of his colleagues in both parties saw it the same way.
Jordan voted for the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, along with 26 of his Republican colleagues, and joined 29 other Republicans in voting for the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Senate Democrats from secessionist states opposed both bills. Jordan voted against two of President Nixon’s appointees to the Supreme Court, both of whom appeared to be hostile to civil rights. Seventeen Senators of Nixon’s party opposed Clement Haynesworth and 13 voted against Harrold Carswell. That simply would not happen in today’s Senate.
The idea that Members of Congress must religiously support their political party, regardless of America’s best interests, is a clear and present danger to our country. It is contrary to the Spirit of 1776 that the nation celebrates on the Fourth of July. If we are to survive as a nation, each and every one of us must pledge to be Americans first and foremost, placing the future of our country above all partisan interests. We should demand that all who would represent us at every level of government do likewise. If we continue down the destructive hyper-partisan path we now are on, the promising venture that began in Philadelphia 245 years ago will not come to a happy ending.