U.S. Senator John McCain has reportedly “ripped President Donald Trump in an interview, saying… “He’s an individual that unfortunately is not anchored by a set of principles. I think he’s a person who takes advantage of situations…. But I don’t think he has the fundamental underpinnings of principles and beliefs.” Senator McCain received a “Liberty Medal” from the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia last month. He’s apparently thinks that this freshly minted credential allows him to pose as a principled proponent of liberty. This despite his consistent support for measures that essentially erase Constitutional protections for individual privacy in the name of national security. Yet, such privacy is one of the essential prerequisites for exercising the right of peaceable assembly, with which the body politic cannot responsibly fulfill the sovereign duties liberty entails, most especially during periodic elections.
Unless it be to defend himself against allegations of criminal misconduct, Senator McCain apparently has little regard for the Constitutional principle that requires that ‘due process of law’ be accorded to all persons under the jurisdiction of the United States, even those holding or running for elected office. Yet, despite left leaning professor Jeffrey Isaac’s praise for his fluency in “the language of the Declaration of Independence”, in his ‘Liberty Medal’ speech Senator McCain neglects to translate the context in which that Declaration of America’s principles evokes “the laws of Nature and of Nature’s God”, as the ground on which the American people stood to assert their duty to break with people still willing to be subjected to the British Monarch’s despotic rule.
In his peroration, Senator McCain calls for God’s blessing: “May God bless America, and give us the strength and wisdom, the generosity and compassion, to do our duty for this wondrous land, and for the world that counts on us.” In this call, Senator McCain’s “Liberty Medal” Speech” brings to mind Donald Trump’s somewhat similar call, in his Inaugural Address, in which the President, too, repeatedly called for God to bless America. But in that address President Trump had enough modesty to allude to the Bible’s observation about “how good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity” going on to say that “…When America is united, America is totally unstoppable… and most importantly we will be protected by God.”
If mentioning the name of God were a sufficient sign of respect for His authority, it would seem that Senator McCain and President Trump are, both of them, speaking the Declaration’s language. But President Trump at least reminds us of the Bible’s conditional juxtaposition of blessing and belonging. That juxtaposition clearly states the blessing is for “God’s people”, which is to say, people who belong to God. Both Trump and, even more presumptuously, Senator McCain, demand that God bless America. Both evoke that blessing upon our achievements as a nation. But in neither of them plainly acknowledges that our achievements do not, strictly speaking, belong to us. Rather, they make manifest the truth that God’s blessing is not a function of our call, nor even of our unity, but of the calling of God we have chosen to follow by acting in accordance with His will.
This latter choice reflects the meaning of ‘right,’ as that word is used in the Declaration of Independence. In respect of right, our first loyalty as a people is not to the Constitution; nor even to ourselves as a nation. It is to God, and the will He has determined for our good, and the good of all creation. This is the loyalty that rescued the Constitution from what America’s Founders thought to be its likely failure on account of the surrender of principle that allowed American slavery to endure. It’s the loyalty that, for a time, rescued our society from the besetting sins of greed and power-worship, which ran rampant on account of the allure of licentious freedom, aggravated by great material wealth and power.
Yet both Senator McCain and President Donald Trump neglect to acknowledge this moral priority as the true foundation for our common identity and achievements as a people. They appear to agree in touting our achievements as though they are some special property of our own making, rather than a consequence of observing the obligations by which God forms and informs our existence. For me, this shared neglect of self-evident truth brings to mind the Bible’s description (2 Timothy 3:4-5)) of those who are “lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof…”. Rather than being taken in by their words, the Bible tells us: “from such turn away.”
Yet, the presence of Christ within us gives rise to the possibility that the past is not prologue; that the calculated use of God’s name may lead to something more, if the true power of that name opens the heart to the miracle of God’s love. For His love engenders mercy, such that forgiveness may be taken for granted, else creation itself would not exist. Before we love God, He loves us. This is true of the created universe, but also of individuals, like ourselves, within it. Though at present it may only be in outward appearance, we are nonetheless called to show to others the patience Christ shows to all of us, even though we hesitate, like doubting Thomas, to believe in it.
By that imitation of Christ, we may ourselves become the worldly substance of the hope Christ represents. President Trump, John McCain and all who want to be the representatives of our body politic would do well to lead us in that imitation. For if, in dealing with one another, we more and more show ourselves to be as truthfully forgiving as Christ, the honesty that acknowledges our mutual shortcomings will bring us ever more willingly to acknowledge our dependence upon him, and the dependence of our nation upon the Almighty God he fully represents.
This is the blessing that comes, not just because we pray, but because God heard our prayer long before we were capable of voicing it. And He consented to become, in us, the very good for which we pray, if we only will let it be.