The Prayerful Citizen: Morning After

I’m writing as the sun is still high in the sky on this Election Day 2016, so no races have yet been decided.  No vote totals announced, no victory parties, no concession speeches.  

Just media speculation run rampant — and anxious impatience among the partisans of both Trump and Clinton for nightfall and the official returns. 

But I can already put down these morning-after reflections with certainty about the outcome and grounded hope about the future, for two simple reasons. 


First, because America’s assets and liabilities in the ledger of great nations are clear to see on November 8 and will not have changed on November 9, regardless of which candidate and party wins or loses tonight.

Second, and far more important, because in the Creator’s all-seeing perspective, our human struggles are viewed with fatherly kindness but never treated as final. Indeed, to Him, mankind’s travail is no more ultimate than Shakespeare’s “poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage.” The Almighty will have the last word — and that word will be good.

Remember that from Bible times and ever since, sacred history is full of flawed individuals that God made miraculous use of, and bad rulers through whom God accomplished good things, and sinful nations that God didn’t give up on. 

No matter whether it’s Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump taking the oath as the 45th president next January, can we as prayerful citizens of the United States of America have any less “firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence” for our country’s next chapter than did the fearless, faithful patriots who risked their all with those words in the Declaration of Independence? 

I’d like to think you and I are neither so self-pitying nor so self-important as to veer into emotional extremes — despair on the one hand or euphoria on the other — based on one “strutting, fretting” set of election returns. 

So much for the spiritual context of the year behind us and the four years ahead.  Historically and politically, I refuse to be knocked off balance either, not if the electoral map is awash in blue or wonderfully red (my preference, as you know) tomorrow morning.

Maybe it’s because of when I came of age politically.  Our presidents from both parties in those years of the 1960s and ‘70s were no prizewinners.  I rooted passionately against John F. Kennedy in 1960 and against Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964.  Both won.  I supported Richard Nixon and his running mate, Spiro Agnew, in 1968 while on naval duty. By 1970 I was a young staffer in their White House.


All four had a mixed record at best on the scale of character and competence.  Impeccably honest? No. Wise statesmen? No. Good stewards of their constitutional responsibility and the public interest? No. Faithful to their oath of office? Hardly.

Their legacy in bad policy consequences and in a tarnished presidential office is with us still, decades later.  But America survived them all, and by some measurements we even thrived.  Just as Great Britain survived the loss of her American colonies and thrived into a century of global dominance, when some feared her ruin. “There’s a deal of ruin in a nation,” remarked Adam Smith drily at the time, and he was right.

So I can say confidently — today, the day before -- that in these coming decades of the 21st century, America will survive either a President Hillary Clinton with Trump and his party in bitter opposition, or a President Donald Trump with Hillary and her party in bitter opposition.  Such is the resilience of our polity, our society, and our national character.

My undaunted, indeed bullish long view is also helped by Anthony Trollope’s two-volume Life of Cicero that I’ve been reading this summer and fall.  It’s commonplace to compare the USA in 2016 to the Roman republic when Julius Caesar made himself emperor.  Marcus Tullius Cicero resisted that mightily, at last losing his gamble and his life.  

Yet Rome’s world-bestriding greatness (granted, imperial not republican) outlived both men by another half-millennium.  To repeat what Smith would observe long afterward: There’s a deal of ruin in a nation.

Bottom line: Does it matter who wins the White House today?  It matters a lot.  Do I want Trump and the Republicans to hold the levers of power, executive and legislative, and to appoint the judiciary? I want that fervently.  If you are reading this on Wednesday and it turned out the other way, count me bummed out.  But I refuse, refuse, to get down about it.

King Herod and Rome’s Pontius Pilate, two worldly politicians, thought they could write the end of the story for Jesus Christ.  He knew otherwise, sovereignly and serenely writing both his own script and theirs, sending ironic word of the same to “that fox” Herod (Luke 13:32).

My friend David Harsanyi, writing last week at The Federalist, struck a similar note of irony when he inverted the quadrennial cliche’ by joking that 2016 is actually “the least important election of our lifetimes.”

Allowing for a bit of overstatement, I think his point is well made.  This land is your land, this land is my land — it’s not HIllary’s or Trump’s.  America is not okay, but she’s going to be okay if you and I keep faith.  If you and I do our part.  I’m in.  Are you?