When the ancient Israelites became ungovernable, Moses told them, “Choose for each of your tribes individuals who are wise, discerning, and reputable to be your leaders (Deuteronomy 1:13).
The just-concluded campaign caused many Americans to wonder whether the United States is capable of choosing wise, discerning, and reputable leaders. The new President will take office lacking the faith of more than half the nation.
Some of us are old enough to remember one of the most divisive episodes in U.S. history. In 1974, President Richard Nixon resigned in disgrace. His successor, Gerald Ford, said, “Our long national nightmare is over.” Our political system has again been disgraced by another “long national nightmare.” This campaign was too ugly too long. In the view of many, the results have the potential to be even worse.
As the Founding Fathers completed the Constitution in 1787, Ben Franklin responded when asked what kind of a government they created. Franklin said, “A Republic, if you can keep it.”
It is not overly dramatic to suggest the U.S. finds itself with a dwindling number of opportunities to keep it. As Robert Frost foretold we have reached that place where two road diverge.
The election is over but our nation is no less divided today than it was before election day. Wyoming did nothing to ebb that flow. The state sent an apparent ideologue to Congress.
Liz Cheney made her name on Fox News with partisan bluster. Her Congressional campaign was much of the same. She said Barack Obama would rather wage war on Wyoming coal than on terrorists, that the President was more dedicated to killing Wyoming’s energy industry than to killing ISIS. Mrs. Cheney Tweeted, “Hillary Clinton is a crooked and corrupt felon who is being protected by an unethical Attorney General and President.”
Mrs. Cheney’s wasn’t alone in mimicking the nastiness we claim to hate. A worse omen was Jared Olsen’s choice to cross a line many hoped would never be crossed in local politics. He shamelessly used blatantly dishonest tactics to defeat Rep. Mary Throne, proving that candidates go negative for one reason. It works. In other words, the shame falls at the doorstep of the voters. If ugly politics are to end, the voters will have to demand it rather than rewarding it.
Eight years ago Barack Obama won the White House. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell identified his party’s mission. “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” They didn’t achieve the goal but not for a lack of trying. Instead they paralyzed the Republic. The harsh words and actions of those eight years gave birth to the distasteful campaign just concluded.
It doesn’t have to be this way for another four years. The Republican Party has been handed a surprise gift. The voters of the United States said they want Mr. Trump to govern with a Republican majority in both houses of Congress. Wyoming voters said they want Ms. Cheney.
Just as the traveler in Robert Frost’s poem looked down one road “to where it bent in the undergrowth,” Ms. Cheney can look down the road and see the undergrowth of continued division.
So, what if Ms. Cheney became the leader America desperately needs?
Liz Cheney is a freshman member of Congress, but not in the usual sense. Given her elevated national profile, Ms. Cheney is blessed with the opportunity to be the change our nation needs. Assuming she is inclined to lead us down the road less traveled, she ‘ll need assurance from the voters that they’ll walk beside her. A politician seldom does what needs to be done without being rewarded by voters.
In the awful days leading to Richard Nixon’s resignation, the country became as divided as it is today. President Ford had a Constitutional tool to bridge that divide. He pardoned Mr. Nixon, ending the rancor. Today Democrats and Republicans must pardon one another if our long national nightmare is to end.