The Last Days of America
“I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the State, with particular reference to the founding of them on geographical discriminations. Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally. This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but, in those of the popular form, it is seen in its greatest rankness, and is truly their worst enemy.”
The above is a quote from George Washington’s 1796 farewell address. In it he spoke of hope and America’s destiny for greatness, but he also warned of a danger that he believed could alone be the destruction of the country: division.
The speech became immediately revered by his contemporaries and continued to be admired by generations to come. However, that essential warning seems to have been lost to time, if it was ever heard at all. Yet it is more relevant today than it ever has been.
In a few days, regardless of who wins or what happens, the United States will change forever. In many ways it already has, and Tuesday is simply a formal recognition; the point where future historians will mark this divergence. Change for America is nothing new, and nor will this be the last time the nation redefines itself. It may, though, be the first time this redefining has lost something in its translation: the spirit of America itself.
No matter through what era you look at, no matter the circumstances or bitter division that plagued the nation, the United States has always been held together by the fundamental fabric of a love for the country. People, no matter how at odds with one another, could always find unity in their shared respect and care for their nation. It’s what allowed them to survive slavery, both World Wars, and transition to being the virtual leader of the West during the Cold War in opposition to Russia.
Obstacles like these had furnished the collapse of countless of their European contemporaries – collapses which enabled America to become the world’s hegemonic warden in the first place. Then, almost overnight, the Americans lost their power, as all great empires do. The Soviet Union collapsed, the Europeans and their former colonies became powers in their own respects, and suddenly the US found its control threatened for the first time in half a century.
Today, 25 years after the fall of the Berlin wall, we are finally seeing its full effects come into play. America has found itself in a strange new world. It finds itself competing against countries like China – having real international competition – for the first time in a long time. It finds itself no longer admired and respected by most of the world. Most of all though, it finds itself unsure of who exactly it is anymore. In this torrent of confusion and fear, ideas like these emerge.
“We want free college!”
“Build a wall!”
“Take down the establishment!”
At the heart of all these superficial demands, however, lies a singular true desire: the restoration of a nation they can feel proud to call their home. Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump represent more to the people that voted for them than merely representatives of their ideas for government. They represent something that the people have been starved of since the death of JFK: a leader they can rally behind. A leader they can follow out of not necessity, but of passion, and one that represents more than any one belief the ideal of hope. Obama built his campaign on this ideal, but to many Americans who put such faith in his message, his delivery fell short of expectations.
Therefore, I can’t help but wonder that once this election finally brings itself to a close, if this time will be regarded as the last days of America as we know it. No doubt others will tap into Sanders’ and Trump’s momentum in the future, but it seems this is a momentum that is increasingly fuelled by a search of trying to find meaning in a world where meaning is lost: in a world where America, the one founded and so loved by Washington and his compatriots, seems to be lost too.
Washington warned of the dangers of division as the gravest threat to America’s survival, but he believed that the strength of the cause would ultimately prevail against such forces, and that a union founded on the basis of hope and freedom could live to become a nation. One can only wonder what he would think if he saw how far his union had come. However, though America did grow into the nation he envisioned, was this done at the cost of the ideas he had fought so hard to preserve? If so, one can wonder if he would think it would have been worth it at all.