Since the 2016 presidential race, there has been a great deal of clarity for the American public about presidential election politics. Sadly, with the election of Donald Trump as the President of the United States, an orchestrated “whine-in” has swept through the entire breadth and width of the “opposition” party and related celebrity voices all voicing the chant: “He’s not my president.” The most gullible participants appear to be the ones with very limited bandwidth in understanding American politics: aka—American athletes. Today being President’s Day, is a good opportunity to examine the potpourri politics of President’s Day, or at least the parameters of a “Not My President’s Day.”
Unfortunately, for the historically challenged, President’s Day is not really a celebration of our current President: Donald J. Trump. Nor is the holiday a celebration of all of the various American Presidents. So just what is President’s Day celebrating—who is really being honored by Americans today—or not honored by American whiners?
Contrary to popular confusion, there is no such federal holiday as President’s Day. The actual holiday is to officially honor George Washington, although his date of birth occurs on February 22nd. The holiday under federal law is still George Washington’s birthday despite all variations of perceptions of the purpose “President’s Day.” Yet legalisms aside, most Americans choose to believe it to be what they believe it to be. Popular reality leads people to believe that it is a holiday to honor all American Presidents, and whiners will no doubt choose not to honor the current President in whatever means they can go out of their way to whine about Trump.
Citizens can actually blame it on Congress for the confusion as the federal government seems to be able to make something simple into something quite complicated and very confusing—like the tax codes of old. In the late 1960s, Congress began to tinker around and messed up a perfectly good birthday celebration for George Washington. Although there had been an early draft of the Congressional calendar shell game that could have made Washington’s Birthday officially into “Presidents’ Day” to honor both Lincoln and Washington, it did not make it through the preliminary committee and the original name was maintained as “Washington’s Birthday.” When commercial interests became involved, the confusion multiplied.
One could wonder, if the holiday is truly a celebration of the Father of the Country, what George Washington would have to say about those who are currently chanting “not my President,” in their localized realms of “resistance.” In reality, if George Washington were alive today, he might feel as if the more things change, the more things stay the same. It is historical fact that even in his day, there were many Americans who were whining about his leadership—or what they perceived as a lack of it. It is quite likely, that was one of the reasons that Washington refused to seek a third term, and it is definitely the reason he issued his prophetic warning regarding the destructiveness of political parties.
Even at the end of George Washington’s first term, the old general was preparing to retire and go back to Mt. Vernon and just be a farmer again. Partly due to dissension and the lack of unity in his own cabinet, he felt the need to resign his position. Serious divisions in Washington’s Administration led to vicious political derision of Washington and his quality of leadership. It is quite likely that his pride was wounded—but there is more to the resignation than personal pride. Indeed, the warning regarding how truly destructive political parties could be is quite revealing.
Citizens would be wise to remember that when Mr. Washington became President of the United States in 1789, there were no political parties. Political parties emerged during the first President’s first term in office with the Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist Party in 1791, and in the following year, the formation of the Democratic-Republicans, or the Anti-Federalist Party, under the leadership of Thomas Jefferson. The political parties formulated their views of how government ought to operate in the new republic, and Anti-Federalists became bitterly opposed to Washington’s handling of foreign affairs, as well as some of his domestic policies.
Although President Washington was determined to resign at the end of first term, and was preparing his Farewell Address, both leaders of the opposing political parties did urge him to reconsider. Hamilton and Jefferson both pleaded with George Washington to stay on for a second term. Jefferson is credited as stating: “North and South will hang together if they have you to hang on.” Eventually, Washington was willing to consent to such sentiments and was again the obvious choice of the Electoral College as they re-elected him in February of 1793.
Unfortunately, during Washington’s second term, the divisions between the two political parties became defined, but sharply divisive. Such divisiveness was never resolved as political differences seldom are, but party lines and loyalty were drawn to the point of personal bitterness and public destructiveness. Such division along party lines represented the most severe split between the two political factions since the inception of the republic. It made a deep impact upon Washington, and the memory must have been in his mind as he wrote about the very real capacity of political parties to destroy the fragile unity holding the nation together.
George Washington did understand the contribution of parties, but was greatly concerned that they had previously, and would again, grow—seeking more power than other groups to the detriment of the whole. He was aware that other governments viewed political parties as destructive because of the temptation to manifest and retain power, but also because they would often seek to extract revenge on political opponents. He viewed this to be detrimental to the young country as an entire nation.
He also warned that political factions gaining enough power could seek to obstruct the execution of the laws that were created by Congress and could prevent the three branches from properly performing their duties as outlined in the Constitution.
President Washington expressed genuine concern in that “the alternate domination” of one political party over another, thereby allowing one party to enjoy temporary power over the government that would use it to obtain revenge on the other. He felt that this tendency toward atrocities directed at the party out of power “… is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism.” Is this not what is transpiring in this day?
Washington argued that political parties needed to be restrained in a free country with a government empowered by the consent of the governed and established through popular elections. He warned of the possibility fearing they could distract the government from its required duty to the people and even lead to the eradication of the freedoms established by the founding. Unfortunately, it may be way too late to restrain the hunger for power in today’s political parties; it has been enculturated.
As the nation celebrates President’s Day, the people should reflect on the words of wisdom in Washington’s Farewell Address; an adept reader may be astounded that they are remarkably prophetic.