The 2016 Election: An Informed Patriotism

Official Portrait of President Reagan 1981Finally, there is a great tradition of warnings in Presidential farewells, and I’ve got one that’s been on my mind for some time. But oddly enough, it starts with one of the things I’m proudest of in the past 8 years: the resurgence of national pride that I called the new patriotism. This national feeling is good, but it won’t count for much, and it won’t last unless it’s grounded in thoughtfulness and knowledge.

An informed patriotism is what we want. And are we doing a good enough job teaching our children what America is and what she represents in the long history of the world? 

…Our spirit is back, but we haven’t reinstitutionalized it. We’ve got to do a better job of getting across that America is freedom–freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of enterprise. And freedom is special and rare. It’s fragile; it needs [protection].

If we forget what we did, we won’t know who we are. I’m warning of an eradication of the American memory that could result, ultimately, in an erosion of the American spirit…

For those of you like me who have wondered how a nation that elected Reagan in the 1980’s could elect Obama only two decades later, I think part of the answer is here in Reagan’s Farewell Speech; for too many Americans that feel-good national wave of emotion never became an informed patriotism.

In June 2013 J. E. Dyer wrote America: Leadership, at the break with the past, and gave her own warning about what is at stake in the 2016 Presidential Election. In the quotes below, her emphasis is underlined; mine is in bold.

…Because the preservation of liberty was not our top priority, we have ended up with a network of governmental arrangements in which our liberties are incontrovertibly a lower priority than partisan agendas.  We do not live in the America envisioned by our Founders…

the truth now is that there is no such option as trying to elect a Republican in 2016 without having the fundamental debate about liberty, law, and governmentTo pretend that every encroachment on liberty – every misuse of government – is not an issue for our elections is to participate in a lie, one that will be fatal to liberty and prosperity.

We can no longer ignore or downplay what our government has the power to do to us, nor can we pretend that things haven’t changed so dramatically that our priorities ought to change as well. The break with our republican past is upon us. We are living it today. We do not have the option of restoring the conditions of 2008, or 1992, or 1960 – no matter whom we elect. Simply electing a Republican to the White House is not a panacea for our ills. But failing to address the encroachment of statism on our lives will guarantee that we never get our liberties back peacefully...

We either navigate forward to a new and deliberately established compact for protecting our liberties, or we succumb to the despotic fate of all previous republics

It cannot be emphasized enough: nothing will change for the better, but everything will change for the worse, if we prioritize an outdated view of electoral politics over the diligent clarification of what government ought to be. It won’t achieve the intended purpose. There is no option to paper over the misuses and abuses of government in order to gain an electoral majority…

We are at the break. We cannot stop it. There will be no alternative to change in the next few years. We either lead, with a time-tested vision of ordered liberty, or we will get steamrolled with everything else.

In analyzing last week’s Republican presidential candidates’ debate, Dyer wrote:

one thing Cruz gets very right is discussing the philosophy of limited government and American liberty. No matter how far he’s pushed, there’s foundation and substance there – not just the right words and talking points, but the meaning behind them. The only other candidate who hits a similar note of depth and seriousness in this realm of moral philosophy is Carson.

If Cruz’s GOP critics want to know why he’s on the rise with voters, the more the voters get to know him, the critics should go back to the Lincoln line: “He fights.” Not seeing that the time has come to fight – politically, for what is necessary to preserve liberty and a government of laws – is a disqualifier for leadership today. More and more of the people see it. Those who don’t need to step down, and let the fighters have their day and win the battle…

Trump comes across as a fighter because he doesn’t shrink from the implications of his most clearly articulated positions. Now, I don’t think he is a fighter in the way Ted Cruz is. Trump has a native hard-headedness that serves him well in many situations,and he has the admirable, indispensable quality of moving forward: dropping old baggage, believing in renewal, creation, and a better future. He doesn’t recognize any such concept as permanently “losing.”

But that’s not the same thing as having a vision in your head of what ordered liberty is supposed to look like for humanity, and knowing what kind of “good ideas” you have to stand against for the use of government, because those ideas never work out the way their advocates insist they will.

Trump is used to managerial ideas working out – or not, and then you liquidate the bad idea and do something else. I perceive Cruz to be the one guy on that stage who knows, with such certainty that he will say no to things on principle, that this dynamic doesn’t apply to government and never will. You will always regret even letting it get started…

Trump doesn’t even use the same lexicon or frame of reference to have that discussion. He can be misled – and my prediction is that he would be – because to him, measuring the size of government is mainly about what size the tax bite is, and whether the government is catering to the unions or the business owners today…

What are the principles that define America? Which candidate adheres best to those principles? Are there boundaries of character and understanding of government beyond which a presidential candidate will not go? It’s my opinion that Cruz has those boundaries and parameters in place—and that could also be said of other candidates. From everything I’ve read and observed, Donald Trump does not.

Feel-good nationalism is not an informed patriotism.

“If we forget what we did, we won’t know who we are.”

President Reagan’s Farewell Speech,


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