In September 1796, tired of the burdens of the presidency and sick of the attacks on him by his political foes, George Washington decided not to seek a third term of office, which set a precedent until Franklin Roosevelt. With the help of Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, Washington wrote a Farewell Address which was not publicly given but rather appeared on Sept. 19, 1796, in the Philadelphia Daily American Advertiser, and then in papers throughout the country.
It is a document every American should read. In it, the president gave his fellow citizens and all of us today three dire warnings, which we have not heeded with grave consequences both financially and with the loss of millions of lives throughout history. We are still paying the price for our blindness today. I will take up each of these in the order in which they appear in the text.
(1) Washington sternly warned us about having political parties. I only have space for one quotation among many I could have selected on a topic he felt strongly about: Political parties "serve to organize faction; to give it an artificial and extraordinary force; to put in the place of the delegated will of the nation the will of a party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community."
Many people, including me, are disgusted by our two parties. I am not alone. Forty-two percent of Americans now identify as independents, up from 39 percent in 2016. Twenty-nine percent of Americans identify themselves as Democrats, and 27 percent as Republicans.
No better recent evidence of politicians putting party above nation is the refusal of the Senate recently to even consider the bills passed by the House to better secure our elections in light of Russian interference. The reason is that the Republicans do not want to admit that the Russians had anything to do with President Trump's victory.
The Democrats' obsession with impeachment, rightly or wrongly, is taking away energy from what the whole nation wants debated — better and affordable health care.
Party loyalty and love of power trump the common good, time and time again.
These two political parties gave us in 2016 two of the worse candidates that ever ran for president, and no matter who won, half of the country would be angry and depressed. Thanks, Democrats; thanks, Republicans! We are now reaping what you have sown.
(2) Washington warned us against foreign entanglements and influences. He believed that the strife of political parties "opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which find a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions." He goes on to write, "history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government."
He warned us against "artificial ties" to other nations. He warned against "interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe," thereby entangling "our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition."
We fought two world wars in Europe, fought wars in the Middle East, in Korea and Vietnam. We are now supplying weapons to Saudi Arabia, one of the most despotic countries in the world, as it continues to slaughter citizens in Yemen.
How many of our many wars have been just wars, or even successful wars?
How many of our elected officials are influenced by foreign money? Did the Russians swing the 2016 election? Worth debating, don't you think?
In my view, the foreign influence in our elections is by far the most important part of the Mueller report. Yet Fox News and its entertainers like Sean Hannity still thought the whole Mueller effort was a witch hunt. Same with most of the GOP. A lot of witches have been indicted thus far, with most likely more to come.
I recommend the new book, "How to Hide an Empire (A History of the Greater United States)" by a Northwestern history professor, Daniel Immerwahr, to understand the true cost of our foreign entanglements in both blood and treasure.
(3) Washington's third dire warning is running up public debt. "As a very important source of strength and security, cherish public credit ... avoiding likewise the accumulation of debt."
Congress recently lifted the debt ceiling, with President Trump's support, which means accumulating hundreds of billions of dollars of more debt, adding to our present $22 trillion national debt. When Ross Perot (whom I voted for because he was a deficit hawk) ran for president, our national debt was $4 trillion. What are we doing to our children? The president and both political parties are committing generational theft on my children, and yours.
We need a third party, one that is fiscally responsible since our two major parties are failures in terms of matching spending with revenues. Public debt and deficits were not even raised once in the first back-to-back Democrat debates. The politicians did not raise the issue once, and the commentators did not ask even one question about our debt. Simply amazing!
No wonder we are heading to economic catastrophe, and our two political parties are whistling past their own graveyards. They do not care, or seem to care, about public debt, or care about all of our foreign entanglements and our military presence all around the world. And neither party cares more about the public good than their own base of power, solidified by money and hatred.
We need something better than this state of affairs. Vote in 2020!
— By the Rev. Henry Idema, Tribune community columnist