When The Public Square began 18 months ago, we did not know where it would lead. But we have seen how the spirit of our land has a great deal to do with the character of our land. It has always been so.
When those times come that divide us, much as the recent election seemed to do, it does not mean we are going backwards. Quite the contrary, we may be on the precipice of moving forward.
Divisions are as much clarifying moments, as they are splintering times. The mental atmosphere we partake, however, determines the course which ultimately prevails.
Just as none of us can tell whence the wind cometh and whither it goeth, or from where the silent sound of the sea hails, our future calls upon all of us to listen well.
As a country, we have two ways to listen. One involves the individual, and the other involves the government. In each case, rightly viewed, they add greatly to the spirit of the land.
Voting perennially slides the temper of the nation forward. Expressing our deepest convictions, it says more who we are than what we do. Voting is where money and influence leave our lives, and conscience comes to the fore.
Sacred, every vote is personal, private, made equally among all citizens, thus fair, as well as prayerful, silent, and solemn. While we may enter the booth as partisans, we vote as individuals. After we vote as individuals, we exit as citizens. Voting is the first tool by which we continuously transform society.
The second is how government instinctively elevates our spirit over the letter. As esteemed historian Joseph Ellis suggests, the most vital word of government in its wish to support “a more perfect union” is, in fact, “more.” By allowing for human imperfection in the Constitution, we made government less a way to “resolve arguments than make argument itself the solution.” We gave ourselves a document of principle, but it is a moving, living, perfecting, one.
Today we seem not to honor and trust these capacious arrangements enough. The Public Square believes we should understand and trust both of them more. To bring it all straight home this Holiday Season, we have a great system.
A country that gives the voter room, and itself room, is rare. These tools should never be forsaken. In the citizen and the government rubbing against each other, they are able to resolve any issue between them. They insure our democratic dream remains a flowing river.
We may need to step back from time to time and take a larger view, however, in order to go forward. So we go back to our spirit, if we properly fasten upon it, as the best way to connect us to our times and our future.
The Public Square has not tried to put people in silos or take sides between those who prefer yesterday or those who want tomorrow. We have spent less time on issues or events than underlying principles. We have looked for first assumptions, and the roots of our American order.
Properly grounded and inserted into our times, these roots again can give us the breathing room we need to frame the future. We don’t have a fading nation. But we don’t have one that is guaranteed to thrive as things stand. We can, however, reach for the essence of the American promise, and make the house of liberty more enduring.
Where this leads The Public Square next year, we do not know.
There may be a few more columns on renewing American citizenship. For, taking our citizenship to the next rung of civic virtue is, indeed, a point of bedrock strength at home and abroad.
As one year comes to a close and another is ready to begin, The Public Square thanks those carrying this column for the privilege of doing so.