The 2020 Election: The Short Case

“There need not be much integrity for a monarchial or despotic government to maintain or sustain itself. The force of the laws in the one and the prince’s ever-raised arm in the other can rule or contain the whole. But in a popular state there must be an additional spring, which is VIRTUE.” —Charles de Secondat, Baron Montesquieu, The Spirit of the Laws, 1748.

“‘Tis substantially true, that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. The rule indeed extends with more or less force to every species of free Government. Who that is a sincere friend to it, can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric?” —George Washington’s Farewell Address, 1796.

To maintain a republic, there must be virtue: among the people, and especially among their leaders. It must at least be outwardly displayed; but it is so much the better if it is held in those leaders’ hearts. Its importance infinitely exceeds that of policy. So long as both candidates in an electoral contest possess virtue, then we as citizens may decide the election on the basis of their particular plans or positions. But if only one possesses virtue, then the best interest of our Republic enjoins us to favor that candidate without equivocation, regardless of the flaws in their governing agenda.

Because, in the words of a philosopher well-acquainted with both good and bad men:

“Because the reordering of a city for a political way of life presupposes a good man, and becoming prince of a republic by violence presupposes a bad man, one will find that it very rarely happens that someone good wishes to become prince by bad ways, even though his end be good, and [it very rarely happens] that someone wicked, having become prince, wishes to work well, and that it will ever occur to his mind to use well the authority that he has acquired badly.” —Niccolo Machiavelli, Discourses on Titus Livy, 1517.

It may be asked, what is this virtue? It is, certainly, commitment to liberty and free government. Yet nobody can be truly committed to liberty who does not possess a deeper and more fundamental virtue. That virtue is decency; it is compassion; it is love. As it was articulated a long time ago:

“If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.

It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never fails.” —First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, 13:1-8a.

Ask yourself, in full honesty: Do both candidates possess this virtue?

I have asked that question, and answered it. And so I will be for Mr. Biden, with all his faults. Because throughout his long life he has shown virtue, and his rival, only malice.

Postscript – The Past, The Present, and The Future

September 11th, 2001

All who were old enough know where they were on 9/11.

I was in history class, in middle school. My teacher stepped into the hallway. When he came back, he turned on the TV, and we saw the Twin Towers billowing smoke. He did not tell us what it was, and the school’s televisions were old and grainy. Could it have been part of our lesson?

In my next class, the principal made an announcement on the intercom. She told us that the World Trade Center had been attacked. Shortly afterward, I was summoned to the main office by name. I did not understand why. They had not told us about the Pentagon.

My father worked in the Pentagon then. He had been on the other side of the building; he was unhurt. I learned that from the school secretary, even though she, too, was reluctant to tell me much more until my mother arrived to bring me home. It was understandable. Confusion reigned, and ours was a school in Montgomery County, Maryland—20 miles from Washington, D.C. Who else might have had a family member in the Pentagon that day?

My family was fortunate. Too many others were not.

Let us remember them. Let us remember 9/11. And let us remember that, then, these United States of America were united. United before our enemies; united before our friends; and, as the fallen may attest, united before our Creator.

Photo courtesy of the National Park Service.

On the 4th of July, 2020

“WE, therefore, the Representatives of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, in GENERAL CONGRESS, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the World for the Rectitude of our Intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly Publish and Declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be, FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES… And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm Reliance on the Protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.” —The Declaration of Independence, signed July 4th, 1776.

George Washington read the Declaration of Independence to the Continental Army in New York City on July 9th, 1776, leaving those words in his soldiers’ ears. A week before, a formidable British force had begun to land on Staten Island. Two months later, the Continental Army was driven out of New York and across New Jersey. Small victories at Trenton and Princeton brought short-lived respite; defeat followed until Philadelphia was captured and the Revolutionary soldiers were on the brink of starvation. Only after they emerged from the ordeal of Valley Forge in 1778 did the tide begin to turn. Triumph at Yorktown came in 1781, more than five years after the Declaration’s signing.

The Declaration of Independence was not a pronouncement of victory; it was a statement of intent. Its signing on July 4th, 1776, was not a moment of triumph, but the beginning of an arduous trial. Americans then had to work to achieve the independence asserted by the Declaration; Americans ever since have had to work to fulfill the self-evident truths expressed within it. On the 4th of July, we, as citizens, rightly celebrate our Republic’s independence. In this year of trial, we should also resolve ourselves to carry out the hard work that is necessary to preserve and perfect it.

Thus, for the support of that Declaration, we could well-use this occasion to again mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.