Presidents’ Day is About Patriotic Love and Freedom

It is now fashionable to deride our presidents as part of the woke deconstruction and desecration of America. Two of America’s most noble presidents, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, whom Presidents’ Day honors most especially,  are routinely scrutinized by the vandals running through our country and institutions. Why?

The two most consequential presidents are the ones whom the woke despise most. Washington is the “Father” of the United States. But what America is he the father of? The America of liberty, the rule of law, and defender of freedom or the America of racism, white supremacy, and historical injustices? Likewise, Lincoln held the union together, is remembered as the Great Emancipator, and ensured that a united America would stride into the next century in which the United States would be the great bastion of freedom against the totalitarianisms of modernity. Or was he guilty of perpetuating the sins of the past as is now becoming trendy to assert?

The hatred of Washington is very straightforward. Humans live by stories. Because we live by stories, Washington is the central figure in whom two stories of America can be told: the America of liberty, justice, and the rule of law or the America of racism and injustice.

While it is fashionable to deride critics as rewriting history, the truer understanding is that critics want to tell another story because history is alive through the stories we tell. The 1619 Project and other woke ideologues want to tell a story in which the America of liberty, justice, and the rule of law is replaced by the America of slavery, injustice, and racism. Washington stands on this crossroad because he is the first president after the Constitution’s ratification -- Washington must either be understood as a champion of liberty and equality or a complicit (if not explicit) defender of oppression, injustice, and white supremacy. The woke choose the latter story.

Hating Lincoln has become a newer fad, but for reasons understandable once the woke ideology is understood. At its core, woke ideology hates everything to do with America -- the historical America and the America of today which is the product of that historical legacy. Furthermore, in its hatred of everything to do with America, it celebrates everything not American: the alien, the foreign, the other. Lincoln need not apply.

Lincoln, because he represents the historic America, because he advanced the cause of Manifest Destiny at the expense of indigenous tribes, and because he represents the supposed “white savior” complex, is also someone who needs to be destroyed. In fact, Democrats in D.C. and in other states have already removed statues of Lincoln and want to remove more statues of Lincoln. Lincoln, therefore, in the story the woke tell, represents the continuation of the system born from Washington, the Founding Fathers, and America’s colonial heritage which the woke proclaim is bad, bad, bad.

This story of America as an oppressor writ large is pernicious on many levels. First, it inculcates a spirit of desecration into the hearts and souls of the next generation. Nothing can be built on hatred; hatred only destroys. Second, this story destroys individuality and agency by flattening everyone to historic actions which we are but the outgrowth expression of. It is meant to destroy notions of individual liberty and freedom by saying we are guilty of past actions or victims of past actions. Third, it negates the heroic sacrifices Americans have made, from settlement to today, in the advancement of liberty and justice for all -- both in America and for the world.

Presidents’ Day matters because it is an opportunity for us to honor those presidents who helped create a country where a constitution of liberty and the human spirit of ingenuity and freedom could be harnessed, unleashed, and cultivated. If John Lennon wanted us to imagine a utopian world, let us imagine a world without the United States. Let us imagine a world where the United States didn’t exist or the union wasn’t preserved and the totalitarianisms of the twentieth century couldn’t be challenged and defeated with the United States leading the crusade for liberty.

Americans need to reclaim the story of the United States as a country where the advancement of liberty, justice, and equality is part and parcel of our historical experience and mission. The United States has, and is, a country where a more perfect union is constantly becoming a truer reality. The United States has, and is, a country where the heart and soul of human liberty is nurtured and nourished. Washington and Lincoln stand as exemplars of inspiration in this regard, presidents who helped ensure this could become reality. We walk in their footsteps.

The attack on America’s presidents is an attack on the understanding we have of ourselves and what story guides our hearts and souls. Presidents’ Day is a reminder of what is good in America, the America of liberty that Washington so valiantly fought for and the America of liberty and equality that Lincoln so nobly stood for. That America would prove indispensable for the conflicts of the twentieth century where the human heart and soul was nearly destroyed by the totalitarian evils that so viciously and violently assailed the world.

We must ensure that America doesn’t slip into the totalitarian temptation. I mentioned that hatred cannot build but only destroy, since it lacks the nurturing spirit of love. The totalitarianisms that this noble nation helped to defeat in the past century were built on hatred -- hatred of Jews, hatred of capitalists, hatred of Christians, hatred of everyone not Aryan or communist. Washington and Lincoln stand to remind us of the power of patriotic love and duty, and how patriotic love and duty can, and will, lead to a new birth of freedom. In honoring them, we honor how patriotism nurtures the goodness in us that is called upon to make sacrifices for others.

Paul Krause is the editor of VoegelinView. He is the author of Finding Arcadia: Wisdom, Truth, and Love in the ClassicsThe Odyssey of Love: A Christian Guide to the Great BooksThe Politics of Plato, and contributed to The College Lecture Today and Making Sense of Diseases and Disasters.

Image: Library of Congress

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