The full contents of Washington’s Farewell Address can be found here.
Imperfections Identified and Exploited
The advice in President Washington’s Farewell Address primarily deals with establishing benchmarks for American Republicanism, foreign affairs policy, and national morality. After a lifetime in public service and two terms as president, he understood that both government and human nature are flawed. Recognizing that the Constitution is a sacred document that should not be altered without great consideration, he offered his reflections on potential weaknesses that might be exploited. The weaknesses that he noted can be identified in current events. If those holding public offices after Washington adhered to his advice, the United States would be a very different place.
Adhering to Washington’s warnings about the dangers of political parties might have mitigated the damages to the country caused by partisan power struggles, lobbyists, and term limits, which are not specifically addressed in the Constitution. There is a lack of respect for the basic ideas of our founding fathers in modern politics. It is not difficult to imagine the eyerolling and yawns that the address evokes when it is read aloud in the Senate each year when Washington suggests that political parties might allow, “cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men,” to “subvert the power of the people,” (Senator Peters). The American people do not vote for individuals. They choose between two distinct corporate machines that dictate policy. Removing political parties would have created a nation of independent thinkers, which was what Washington envisioned when he wrote about enlightened public opinion.
An Educated Public of Free Thinkers
The current state of public education does not promote a well-informed public. The people allowed President Obama to implement Common Core in every public school in the country to indoctrinate children with liberalism. Adults are expected to be ignorant of basic civics. To an extent, leaders have been successful in the plan to, “demean government, drop civics and in general conspire to produce an unaware and compliant citizenry,” as Bill Ivey wrote to John Podesta (2013). Unawareness combined with a lack of faith in the media has created an environment that cultivates numerous conspiracy theories. Citizens believe that they are educating themselves when they are being intentionally mislead for nefarious purposes.
The Manifestation of Despotism
Even those who are educated in the political process are affected by bad actors in government more than most realize. There are two instances in the address where President Washington spoke of despotism. One is when writing about political parties and the other is regarding the separation of powers. He hypothesized that if one branch of government’s strength overpowers the other, it will lead to despotism. One good example of this is found in the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks.
In the face of the deadliest terror attack on American soil, George W. Bush signed the Patriot Act into law, which gave the executive branch unfettered access to data of innocent Americans. The Edward Snowden leaks proved that numerous entities under the Department of Justice umbrella abused the power by engaging in surveillance without just cause. Those entities in the DOJ have taken on a life of their own, even being weaponized against the head of the executive branch and the opposing party’s political candidates.
Washington’s Single Flaw
The one instance that Washington’s advice is wrong is found in his remarks on foreign affairs. He warned of, “excessive partiality,” to other nations. As a Christian, Washington would have blessed America’s protection of Israel. God promised that “He will raise a banner for the nations and gather the exiles of Israel; he will assemble the scattered people of Judah from the four quarters of the earth” (ISA, 11:12, NIV). The tragedy of World War II may have created the formation of Israel, but the aftermath also created alliances that might be the type that Washington cautioned against.
NATO was formed to maintain peace in Europe, but one of the stipulations was that if a member country was attacked, it was an attack on all (NATO). The Trump administration has threatened to pull out of NATO because of the organization’s overreach, disregard of the abuses of dictators, and attacks on Israel (Gearan). As the last superpower, membership in NATO is a perfect illustration of weak nations becoming satellites of powerful nations. The United States joined NATO in the wake of a horrific genocide that the world agreed can never happen again, but similarly to the Patriot Act after 9/11, the decision was made abruptly without consideration of the ramifications.
Washington’s observations of potential weaknesses in the government have proven to be true. Two comments stand out as timely today as they were in 1796 when it was written. The first is the assertion that public opinion might be swayed by other countries. This is evidenced in the concerns about foreign electoral interventions today. Outside influences on elections in the
United States have been occurring since its inception, but it has become a weaponized political tool in the public arena. The other is his statement that he didn’t dare hope that his counsels will leave a lasting impression. Politicians are no more likely to heed his advice today than they did when the address was written. The perennial advice in the address is applicable today because politics, like everything in life, proves that “there is nothing new under the sun,” (ECC, 1:9, NIV).
From Bill Ivey – WikiLeaks. (n.d.). Retrieved July 29, 2018, from https://wikileaks.org/podesta-emails/emailid/3599
Gearan, A. (2017, June 06). U.S. says it may pull out of U.N. human rights body, citing member abuses, treatment of Israel. Retrieved July 29, 2018, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/us-warns-it-may-pull-out-of-un-human-rights-body-over-abuses-treatment-of-israel/2017/06/06/3a42b78e-4a9b-11e7-9669-250d0b15f83b_story.html?utm_term=.5dfc126de163
NATO. (2017). Why was NATO founded? – We are NATO. Retrieved July 29, 2018, from https://www.nato.int/wearenato/why-was-nato-founded.html
NIV Bible. (2007). London: Hodder & Stoughton.
Senator Peters Reading Washington’s Farewell Address. (2018, February 26). Retrieved July 29, 2018, from https://www.c-span.org/video/?441283-2/senator-peters-reading-washingtons-farewell-address