Some 18 years after it was published, I am finally getting around to reading David McCullough’s masterpiece, 1776. As a longtime history buff, I am a bit embarrassed that I am just now reading this important work about America’s fight for Independence. Using both American and British historical documents, the book brings to life the people who led the colonies’ fight for their independence from what was then the greatest power on earth.
It is fascinating to be taken back to the time in our country’s history when people put everything on the line in the fight for freedom. I am mesmerized by young General George Washington, only 43 years old when he assumed command of the continental forces.
Washington was not the most experienced military leader of the time, but he was likely the best man for the job. His task of pulling together the militias from across the 13 colonies was almost impossible. There was little money. A ragtag collection of farmers, merchants, and tradesmen, undisciplined and untrained, faced the world’s most powerful army and navy at the height of Great Britain’s power.
We all know the schoolyard stories of George Washington, including the famous tale of cutting down a cherry tree. Although likely just folklore, his words that “I cannot tell a lie” when confronted with the deed, do capture the leadership skills and personal integrity that made Washington the man for the time.
Washington was not perfect. He owned over 100 slaves. He was saved from some likely military disasters because he wisely chose to listen to his own War Council instead of following his own instincts. But despite his shortcomings, he was a true hero, worthy of the generations of praise and admiration that made him a cornerstone of America’s story.
I wonder what George Washington would say to Americans today, particularly to the Congress, and even more specifically to the House of Representatives. He would be dismayed at the polarization of American politics, though 18th century politicians had their own issues. He would likely gasp in disbelief at the ways the news media distorts the truth on both sides. He would be horrified at the way social media gives credence to ideas that are not born of fact.
Washington, who retired after two terms as President though he could have become King, would likely shake his head at those leaders who put personal political power ahead of the needs of the country. Is it any wonder that our political leaders have abysmal ratings with the public?
We can disagree about almost anything and everything in politics, although I think we have lost our way in how to disagree agreeably. There is room for Republicans, Democrats, majorities, minorities, and people of all colors and religions. We have long been a melting pot nation that is only becoming more so over time.
But there must be some boundaries. There must be some fundamental truths that people of the hard right, hard left and everyone in between agree upon for our democracy to survive. It is not unreasonable for Americans to demand honesty and integrity from their elected officials. Fight to the end for your cause, your side, your party, but tell the truth and act with integrity. Otherwise, over time we will all lose.
As I read about the extraordinary roles our early leaders played in the founding of our country, I especially wonder what George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and thousands of others who risked everything for the chance to be free, would say about newly elected and thoroughly disgraced Representative George Santos.
How many ways can one man lie on his way to being elected to Congress? Let me count the ways. By now you have heard the long list of falsehoods Santos told while misleading the constituents of his district. He lied about the schools he attended. He lied about being Jewish. He lied about his grandparents surviving the holocaust. He lied about his jobs on Wall Street. He lied about where his money came from. This is not close to the complete list, but you get the idea.
Yet, George Santos sits in Congress, though mostly alone, as we listen to all the reasons that he cannot or should not be removed. We are told that it will be handled by the newly gutted House Ethics Committee. Those wheels of justice will likely move at a glacial pace.
I have been around politics for a long time. I have known politicians that had a weak moral fiber and a distorted sense of right and wrong. None of them, not one, approached the level of dishonesty that Santos seems to have in telling his own story.
It is not Santos that George Washington would be dismayed at if he were here today. His head would be bowed in shame at the silence of those in Congress who allow a complete fraudster to sit in the hallowed seats meant for men and women of integrity and character.
Nothing but the truth. Seems so simple and basic. I wonder what George Washington would do.
Dan Ponder can be reached at email@example.com