There is a reason why Donald Trump’s constant refrain—“We don’t win anymore”—resonates so much with a sizable minority of voters. People yearn to be empowered and the American people in particular yearn to see America empowered. In every contest of power and test of mettle in the past eight years, America has prevaricated.
Long gone are the days of President Bush standing upon the rubble at Ground Zero and declaring our intent to fight. Americans are demoralized. They want a leader who will look challenges and crises in the eye, rather than bowing before them. But where does such strength come from? What is it that makes America strong?
There are two prevalent types of strength in the realm of politics—one which contends that might makes right and the other which contends that right makes might. The first is the type that one would find in Vladimir Putin’s Russia and Xi Jinping’s China. Both nations suppress dissent through brute strength and nibble away at the territory of their neighbors with tanks and warships.
Like all repressive, collectivist regimes—be they fascist or truly socialist—they buy into the utilitarian philosophy of social Darwinism. Only the fittest survive. Power must be achieved at any cost, maintained at any cost, and expanded at any cost. Those who get in the way of that claim to power or try to thwart its expansion are crushed. The less “fit” mysteriously fall from tall buildings or are poisoned (Russia) or simply flattened by a tank (China).
America has historically bought into the second concept of strength—that right makes might. Contrary to the claims of Marxist historians, the American Revolution was not the product of rich and exploitative merchants. Such a tawdry basis for revolt would never have sustained our founding generation against the most advanced military in the world. Instead, our country committed itself to a declaration of values—codified in the Declaration of Independence and written as well upon the inner constitution of the individual heart. It is the power of ideas that drives both the tank and the person who stands before it, hand upraised.
This moral certitude enabled the “Greatest Generation” to prevail in World War II and the lack of that moral certitude undermined our war in Vietnam; it anchored our resolve in the first Gulf War and undermined it in the second one. Our strength has always been tied to our moral character and nothing does more to destroy our resolve than immoral conduct and moral equivocations from our leadership.
How does this inform our conduct today? The social Darwinist will deny the unborn to right to live and grant to the terminally ill the right to die because the value of their life has been measured and found wanting. The social Darwinist who opposes these values will do so because he or she has known winners who could’ve been aborted but were not. Those who rely on the inner constitution, on the other hand, will recognize that life is not measured by social value or function, but has intrinsic worth. Might does not make right; right makes might.
The social Darwinist will use the levers of political and economic power to provide pleasure to the greatest number of people—usually the most fit among us. The fundamental question for each policy will be “What works?” Good deals will constantly be sought, but the quality of those agreements will be determined by who comes out ahead—not by moral qualities of goodness. Those who rely on the inner constitution, however, will be more interested in pursuing the greatest amount of liberty in order to free Americans to pursue moral good without coercion. For only a free people can be a moral people.
The strength of America is rooted in her written Constitution, as well as the unwritten one carried within the hearts of her people. The written version will only remain as long as the unwritten one is sustained. And this inner constitution, as in the days of our Founding, requires freedom for its virtuous expression. It cannot be written over like a defective computer code by executive orders or threats of “paying the price.”
Many nations around the world have constitutions that closely mirror that of America’s Constitution. Yet few of them have fostered the inner constitution that sustains such a powerful document and have resorted to the same social Darwinist terrors of countries without such constitutions. Without a strong inner constitution, America’s written Constitution will be meaningless, and America’s strength will slowly be sapped by the lack of her moral resolve until she is just another second-rate dictatorial power.
As voters continue to flood the polls in record numbers this election season, they should ask: What makes America strong and which view of strength is driving them to the polls?