Reading about Washington Irving is reading about early America. And reading about early America is to read about what’s happening in politics today. One thing that’s very clear, even among the founders of this nation, is the fear that politicians like those we have today would arise. You see, nothing like America had happened before—a nation deciding to govern itself without a king or queen. A democracy. The founders weren’t blind to human weakness, however. They repeatedly warned against what we now have—a two-party system (which will naturally deeply divide a people) that backs ambitious, wealthy individuals who crave power rather than the good of the country. Instead of bravery, we elect cowards who dodged the draft because of their personal wealth, and then called veterans “losers” when they’re elected.
There’s some comfort in this long view, however. The fear we all constantly feel is nothing new. From 1776 onward, those who were architects and analysts of this republic have warned that we’re always on the brink. Reading about such things at the same time as reading about the history of Russia is enlightening. Russia was a monarchy. It’s sometimes hard to remember that it has only been a hundred and five years since the Romanov family was executed and “rule by the people” became the norm in that nation. That Mikhail Gorbachev was the first leader of post-Soviet Russia and that was only less than 25 years ago. We are all part of history. And history is very old.
America only works as long as those who lead it are dedicated to the nation, not to themselves. What is the sense of a nation if not putting the needs of others on the same level, or even above, your own? Sacrificial thinking is behind what used to be called “servant leadership.” Instead, we tend to see those who find out how to game the system rising to the top through money, grift, or high self-regard. And when multiple nations have such people in leadership roles we find ourselves in the situation that we face in the twenty-first century. But we faced it also in the twentieth century. And in the nineteenth. People, it seems, do not change. Monarchs, through no right other than extreme wealth, rule nations. The idea never dies. The thought that wealth equates with worth is a poison to all political systems. This is something you learn by reading about early America. Today’s an election day. If you support democracy, make time to get out and vote.