Three Revolutions

Three revolutions: American, French, Russian.  A world of difference when you compare them.

The American Revolution, in my view, was not a revolution in the popular understanding of that term, whereas the other two were. In fact, my students know that I famously (infamously?) rename the American Revolution as The American War for Continued Self-Government.

Not very catchy, I know, but more accurate. I point to the fact that this perceived revolution was for the maintenance of the rights and liberties that were already granted. When the British government refused to acknowledge those rights and liberties, the colonists, in self-defense, were forced to take up arms.

The result was a government that certainly had some new and improved features, but it was hardly anything that overturned the basics of representative government that Britain supposedly upheld.

I like a couple of the memes making the rounds after the Brexit vote, as Britain decided to leave the European Union:
Learned Your Lesson

Before It Was Cool

The French Revolution may have been inspired, to some degree, by what happened in America, but the nature of it was altogether different. Whereas Americans fought for self-government, the protection of property, and liberty of conscience with a reliance upon Christian faith, the French divorced themselves from that faith and a bloodbath ensued. What did they achieve? They replaced an insensitive king with Napoleon Bonaparte, an unaccountable dictator.

The Russian Revolution also is known as the Bolshevik Revolution, led by the bloodthirsty tyrant Vladimir Lenin. He, and his successor, Josef Stalin, set up a socialist/communist state that attempted to destroy all religion and constitutional limitations, and became one of the most genocidal nations in the history of man. Stalin alone murdered 30 million of his own citizens.

So, no, I don’t link these three revolutions.

That’s why I love to teach American history and point to what the Founders sought to accomplish. The Fourth of July—the day the wording of the Declaration of Independence was approved—should be a time for celebration.

I have to admit, though, that these last two Independence Days have been muted celebrations for me. The Supreme Court decision in favor of same-sex marriage occurred just prior to Independence Day 2015 and we have devolved since then.

Religious liberty is under greater attack than ever in our nation’s history. The Democrat party has given itself over completely to an anti-Christian philosophy. The Republican party, which is supposed to be the counterweight politically to the radicalism of the Democrats, has tied its future to a man totally unworthy of the presidential office.

Safe and Sane

Yes, my outlook is somewhat subdued today. The bright side of all this is a reminder that this world is not our final home and that no nation or government is our salvation. Our final home is in the presence of God and He is our hope and our salvation. Let’s keep our priorities straight and He still may have mercy on us.

America, bless God, and then He may have a reason to bless us.

Needed: Another Ronald Reagan Moment

The third, and final, presidential debate is tonight, and the topic is foreign policy. Most Americans, apparently, find the topic of lesser interest than domestic policy, yet is has a direct impact not only on pocketbook issues but our very survival as a nation. I guess what I’m saying is that we ought to be intensely interested in what transpires overseas.

America has always been affected by the ideologies and actions of foreign nations. In our first decade, with George Washington as president, our political scene was poisonously divided over the matter of the French Revolution. Founding Fathers who fought side by side in our war for independence accused each other of either wanting to reestablish British control over us or of seeking to set up guillotines on the street corners. It was only Washington’s steady hand and the general esteem in which he was held that got us through the crisis. It does matter who is in charge.

Closer to our day, in 1979, when Iranian radicals invaded the American embassy and took hostages, we didn’t have a strong leader. The Carter presidency shriveled under the stress and the crisis dragged out until 1981. The hostages were released on the day Ronald Reagan was inaugurated. Perhaps the Iranians had second thoughts about tangling with someone who exuded greater confidence.

One of Reagan’s signal achievements was the part he played in the demise of the Soviet Union. The pressure he put on that country via aid to Afghans who sought to remove Soviet troops from their homeland, and the announcement of his Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) to counter Soviet missiles aimed at the U.S. pushed the Soviets to the brink of economic extinction. When he then sat down with Gorbachev, he did so from a position of strength. The Cold War, which loomed over us for four long decades, ended not with a bang but with a whimper. Today, there are monuments to Ronald Reagan throughout the old Soviet-dominated Eastern European countries.

Yes, foreign policy matters, and it also matters who is in charge of it.

The Obama campaign had hoped to capitalize on the death of Osama bin Laden and their predetermined theme that Al Qaeda was diminished and on the run. The Libya debacle capsized that strategy. If they were to admit it was terrorism, and terrorism associated with Al Qaeda, it would seriously damage their credibility in the handling of a war on terror they never liked from the beginning. Remember how they changed the wording to “overseas contingency operations”? They’ve been adept at wordsmithing all along the way. When the gunman at the Ft. Hood massacre made it evident he carried out his act because of his radical Islamic ideology, the Obama administration swept that under the rug by calling it “workplace violence,” as if Islamic terrorism had nothing to do with it. I’m surprised they haven’t yet employed that terminology to the Libyan situation.

I wonder if that’s what we will hear tonight? At the very least, Obama is going to have to explain why he and his people took so long to call the attack on the consulate and the murder of our ambassador simply a demonstration against a movie trailer hardly anyone has seen. If he tries to deny that was the case, he has history against him:

The key to this debate will be whether Romney is up to the challenge of clearly exposing this hypocrisy. There are other issues as well—our relationship with Israel, the misnamed Arab Spring, violence in the Middle East in general, the failure of the “reset” button with Russia—that also should come up.

Foreign policy is vitally important, and it’s just as important who is leading America on the world stage. We are suffering through another Jimmy Carter Moment. Will another Ronald Reagan Moment follow?

A Historian’s Perspective on Bad Times in American History

I don’t think there’s really any disagreement about how pessimistic the majority of Americans are about the future. Currently, all the polls reveal that pessimism.  As I survey the scene—the spiritual/moral, political, and cultural aspects [what does that leave?]—I have grave concerns as well. I plan to expound on those concerns in tomorrow’s post. But for now, I’d like to offer a historian’s perspective.

Since I teach American history, I have a more in-depth knowledge of what has transpired previously. I can imagine myself transported back into earlier eras and think about how I might have felt about current events at those times. Bad moral climates, disunity, and devastating government policies have cropped up throughout our history.

If my life had spanned the late colonial and revolutionary era, for instance, I would probably have been quite distressed over the state of affairs. The colonies had declared independence, and it was a thrilling prospect, but the progress of the war was anything but thrilling. George Washington was often near despair over the inability of the Congress to pay his troops or provide for their needs. Thousands deserted during events such as Valley Forge. There was talk of meekly bowing to the British because all hopes for the future now appeared to be delusional. Even after achieving independence, the new states didn’t seem to want to work together; the entire national governmental structure was on the verge of collapse.

If I had experienced the 1790s, I would have been shocked by the vitriol that spewed forth daily in the newspapers, particularly those who accused Washington of wanting to set himself up as king. The French Revolution, which took place at that time, was one of the bloodiest episodes in all of history, and many in America were hailing it as a magnificant development. I would begin to question the wisdom of the electorate and wonder if this fledgling country could survive its first decade after the Constitution.

Later, during the War of 1812, our military defenses were so disorganized that the British actually burned Washington, DC, including the president’s house and the Capitol. Their troops were ravaging the countryside, destroying everything in their path without any effective countermeasures. What a low point for a nation.

Then there’s the Civil War and the decade that led to it. Passions were so heated in Congress that representatives started bringing their weapons with them into the House and Senate for protection. Slavery, by this time, had become entrenched. The Founding Fathers had hoped to eliminate it, but now the South was proclaiming it to be a positive good from God. The nation split; more than 620,000 died in the war that followed, the highest tally for any American war. Bitterness remained for years afterward [you can still see its remnants today].

The Progressive Movement, after the turn of the twentieth century, introduced more government involvement in people’s lives and decided that the Constitution was an outdated document that had to be reinterpreted. Woodrow Wilson, a racist and a eugenicist, took the presidency. The eugenics movement sought to limit who could have children; only the “best” should reproduce. This movement formed the cornerstone of Nazi policies in Germany later.

Wilson moved the country down the path that led to Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s—the fulfillment of progressive dreams as the government took charge of getting the nation out of the Great Depression. FDR’s policies were so dismally foolish that the Depression continued until WWII. If I had lived during those decades, I would have mourned the loss of Biblical principles and constitutional limitations. The reigning ideology tossed out the concept of the rule of law. Now, anything could happen.

I did live during the 1960s and 1970s. It was not pleasant. First was LBJ’s Great Society, which could be described as the New Deal on steroids, followed by the rancor of the Vietnam War, then Nixon’s Watergate fiasco, and finally, the debilitated presidencies of Ford and Carter. The economy was in the tank, the worst since the Great Depression. Along the way, we also concluded that innocent children in the womb could be murdered.

I say all of this to make this point: there have always been bad times. Quite often, those who believe in Biblical morality and constitutionalism have come to the edge of despair. Yet we are still here. There is still hope to turn things around. We survived the disunity of the Revolution and the Civil War. We overcame the disgrace of the burning of the nation’s capital. Calvin Coolidge reversed Woodrow Wilson’s policies and Jimmy Carter brought forth Ronald Reagan.

Will the disaster that is the Obama administration become a footnote in our history or have we turned a corner and lost our way forever? That page in our history has yet to be written. We are the ones who will write it. If we take our responsibility seriously, hope remains.