Richard Bogartz: A sideways glance

Thursday, July 06, 2017

After throwing a wonderful June party to celebrate — with some beloved friends — my November birthday, Ladyluv, her two sisters, and one bro-in-law spirited me off to the Berkshires for a week. We saw the musical “Ragtime,” ate at the Culinary Institute of America and traipsed through towns like Stockbridge. We visited Storm King. In Hyde Park, we saw the Franklin Delano Roosevelt museum.

It was stunning and inspiring to be reminded of FDR’s commitment to the people, all that he did, and how quickly he did it to alleviate the plight of the poor, the aged and the unemployed: The labor reforms. The rural reforms. The Glass-Steagall Banking Act. The Civilian Conservation Corps.

In 1933, between March 9 and June 16, 16 major acts were passed in the areas of financial reforms, jobs relief, rural reforms and prohibition. Naturally, I thought of our current president, and what a conversation between him and FDR might sound like. Before I could pursue this thought, I began to wonder what the country’s Founding Fathers might have to say to President Trump. I went looking. Here, with their help, are some of my imaginings.

Adams would tell Trump that “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” About so-called fake news, Adams would say, “The jaws of power are always open to devour, and her arm is always stretched out, if possible, to destroy the freedom of thinking, speaking, and writing.” Jefferson might have added that “Information is the currency of democracy.”

About today’s divisiveness in government, Adams would tell Trump that “There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.”

On Education, Adams would ask Trump to tell Betsy DeVos that “Laws for the liberal education of youth, especially of the lower class of people, are so extremely wise and useful, that, to a humane and generous mind, no expense for this purpose would be thought extravagant.” Washington would add, “There is nothing which can better deserve our patronage than the promotion of science and literature. Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of public happiness.”

Washington would say, “99 percent of failures come from people who make excuses,” and that he had said he hoped he would “possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain what I consider the most enviable of all titles, the character of an honest man.” Then he might add an instruction to “Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience.”

About government’s goals, Adam might advise “We ought to consider what is the end of government, before we determine which is the best form. Upon this point all speculative politicians will agree, that the happiness of society is the end of government, as all Divines and moral Philosophers will agree that the happiness of the individual is the end of man. From this principle it will follow, that the form of government which communicates ease, comfort, security, or, in one word, happiness, to the greatest number of persons, and in the greatest degree, is the best.” Washington would add, “Happiness depends more upon the internal frame of a person’s own mind, than on the externals in the world.” Adams also speaks to us. “The war ... was no part of the revolution; it was only an effect and consequence of it. The revolution was in the minds of the people, and this was effected ... before a drop of blood was shed.”

Today we need a new revolution that discards greed in the name of decency, caring, and compassion. Or, as Jesus commanded, we need to love one another.