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George Washington

Painting of George Washington

Don Kaltschmidt's guest column (Missoulian, Oct. 24) included the following words and phrases: gridlock, lurch towards socialism, socialist, radical, blind(ly), catastrophe, fighting the president, fringe supporters, gamesmanship, political sideshow — all in reference to political foes of Montana’s Republican Party chairman. President Trump refers to witch hunts, smear campaigns and a presidential lynching. Democrats have their own equally unhelpful terms.

I’m told that President Trump would have advised our first president to label Mount Vernon as “Washington Manor” — so he would be remembered. Fortunately, there is much to remember other than a name on a monument or property. Washington’s Farewell Address on Sept. 17, 1796, at the end of his second term, foresaw our current situation. His following comments should be read, and reread, by all Americans:

“Let me … warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party…

"This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but in those of the popular form, it is seen in it greatest rankness, and is truly their worst enemy.

"The alternative domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissention, which in different ages and countries has perpetuated the most horrid enormities, is itself frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purpose of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.

"Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind, (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight) the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party, are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.

"It serves always to distract the public councils, and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one part against another; foments occasional riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which find a facilitated access to the government itself, through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country, are subjected to the policy and will of another.”

We must prove ourselves worthy of our founders. This is the challenge for all Americans — Republicans, Democrats, Independents. A rich legacy resulted from our founders’ wisdom. That legacy is at risk.

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Roger S. Smith of Polson is an economist and former government consultant. 

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