Reclaiming the American Spirit

In the elections of 2020, Americans will decide whether we continue the quest toward a more perfect union or choose a fundamentally different form of government and the future of the nation. Americans are being asked to either reclaim or reject the historic spirit of America encoded in our founding documents. Abandoning the constitutional separation of powers by granting supreme authority to the President, will lead to the abandonment of the rule of law and the transformation of our democratic republic into an autocracy or monarchy. The reelection of a President who has aggressively defied the separation of powers and rule of law would validate his claim to the supreme authority to shape the future of the nation. Congress, having failed to limit his powers through impeachment, will be powerless to resist.


People in a democracy have the constitutional right to vote for and elect an autocrat for their President. However, once an autocracy has been sanctioned by the voters, they will have no means of re-establishing a democracy, other than through a violent revolution or military coup. Free and fair elections will become a thing of the past. The American Spirit will be on the ballot in November. Once again, the American people are being asked to decide whether this nation of the people, by the people, and for the people can endure.


The English word Spirit comes from the Latin word for "breath.” As with breath, spirit is essential to life, whether the life of a person or a nation. The spirit of a nation is defined by the principles that guide the animating force that keeps a nation alive and evolving toward its chosen future. However, the spirit of a nation is the collective spirit of its people and the people of a nation change from generation to generation. Like all living things, the life of a nation ebbs and flows, with good times and bad, but as long as its vital principles, its spirit, remains unchanged its chosen future is secure. Each generation must decide whether to reaffirm the guiding principles of the nation’s forebearers or breathe a different spirit into the nation and move the nation toward a different future. We are now being asked to make this choice.


To reclaim the American spirit, we Americans must be guided by the principles enshrined in the Declaration of Independence: that we are all created equal and are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We must elect a president and congressional representatives who will continue working toward a more perfect union by securing justice for all, preserving unity among the states, defending the nation against foreign adversaries, promoting the general welfare of the people, and securing the blessings of freedom and liberty for ourselves and for future generations. The Preamble to the Constitutions defines the responsibilities of government. The Bill of Rights only defines limits to its powers.


The historical American spirit can be summed up in one simple, timeless, universal principle of moral human behavior: To treat others as we would have them treat us—the Golden Rule. To live by the Golden Rule, we must first have empathy. We must imagine ourselves confronting the same life’s circumstances as others, and imagine how we would want to be treated if we had lived and were living their lives rather than our own. Whenever we don’t know or understand the circumstances of others personally, government provides the impersonal means by which we can practice the Golden Rule. This was the spiritual aspiration of the Founding Fathers with which they founded the United States of America—admittedly not the spiritual reality of the times but their aspirations for the future.


The Golden Rule can be found in virtually all major religions and enduring philosophies through the history of the world. It is reflected also in the Native American proverb, “Never criticize a man until you've walked a mile in his moccasins.” The Founding Fathers were students of western philosophy as well as world religions, which is reflected in the structure of the U.S. government as well as the guiding principles in the founding documents. They were Christians, but they encoded “freedom of religion” in the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution to prevent the establishment of a national religion or a “Christian nation.” Their Christian beliefs logically would have influenced their notion of the Golden Rule. In Mark -12:28-31 of the Bible, Jesus is asked to name the greatest commandment. He replied, “The most important one… To Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.”


The American spirit is reflected the Declaration of Independence is a spirit of love. As I have written before, the all-inclusive definition of love is “a belief in inherent goodness.” “To love” means to act on that belief. Love is rooted in a belief in goodness, regardless of whether the ultimate source of goodness is God, the Creator, the Creation, Nature, or some other higher order of things. The spirit of love embodied in the Golden rule is to see the same inherent goodness in others that we see in ourselves and to strive to give others the same opportunity to express that goodness as we would like for ourselves. This is the spirit of love that must guide us if we are to continue moving toward a more perfect union.


The historic Protestant work ethic that equates human worth with hard work and economic success is still deeply ingrained within our society, particularly among many Christian fundamentalists. Single-issue or special interest politics also dominate the voting decisions of many Americans, rather than the larger common interests or general welfare. It’s sometimes difficult to see the inherent goodness in others who have values different from ours, but we must. The American spirit requires nothing less of us.


This election is not just about choosing two men and their running mates for President and Vice President of the United States. It’s about choosing between two forms of government—autocracy and democracy. If we reelect the incumbent this November, future elections in the U.S. will be little different from elections in Russia today. The groundwork is currently being laid for a monarchical family dynasty extending into the foreseeable future. This election would be equally important if the current incumbent president was a social autocrat seeking to transform our democracy into an autocratic form of socialism. In either case, the American people would grant to a single individual the supreme authority that now resides with “the American people”—as is the case in all true democracies. The choice in this election is not between two autocrats but between autocracy and democracy.


Experiences of the past four years should have taught Democrats and Republicans alike that a dysfunctional government, regardless of the motives, creates a vacuum that eventually will be filled by a wannabe autocrat who promises to “make America great again.” We will have an opportunity to reclaim the American spirit in the elections of November 2020. May God grant the American people the wisdom to choose wisely.


John Ikerd