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Ship of State

America's Founding Fathers foresaw Donald Trump's America. Editor DREW GOWING remembers the 2020 U.S. presidential election, coronavirus pandemic, and the turning point in the republic.

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Rolling Stone
Sunday Morning / December 27, 2020
Sunday Morning / December 27, 2020

When Plato compared the governance of a city-state to the command of a naval ship he took a seat amongst the founding fathers of Western Civilization. In the oft cited metaphor he penned;

Workers shall produce, soldiers will protect, and a wise philosopher king will preside.

These were the three classes upon Plato’s Ship of State who embark in his magnum opus, The Republic. The expedition for a just city-state, and the search for a virtuous man, would sail for thousands of years before reaching the American Colonies.

The 2020 U.S. presidential election brings the nation forward in time and to the brink of constitutional crisis. Not because President Donald Trump refused to concede the election, nor because he contested the result, but because he attempted to obstruct those votes which had been legally cast and certified. A free and fair election is the cornerstone of a democracy.

From Watergate to Reconstruction, steel strikes and civil war, it was the seventh and perhaps most senseless time for the government to go off script. The Founders agreed that “if our nation is ever taken over it will be taken over from within” and with an insurrection looming the republic was sailing perilously close to the winds of devolution.

More than a civic right or duty, I, we, and the non-binary they have all been swept up into this sea of democracy to find ourselves either duty bound or indentured to this ship of fools. Like our forefathers, we're unclenching our fists to relinquish the ores and approach the stern and stargazer. To retake this ship and return her to the cause and fight for freedom.

We the People

When the Founding Fathers began gathering at the Constitutional Convention in 1787, many had already turned to the Classics. James Madison, in particular, had fiercely studied the republics of ancient Greece and drew lessons from their experience. Plato, for example, may have envisioned a mixed government, but the Founders spin and modern delineation on the separation of power was a savvy innovation. In fact, each of the seven key Founding Fathers had turned in some way to the Classics to inform their own more perfect union.

From my small corner of the ship I am an editor. I sit amongst a sordid array of users in a bottomless sea of data that is now collected, analyzed and optimized by tech companies. The frightful five — Amazon, Meta, Apple, Microsoft and Alphabet — are collectively more powerful than many governments and effectively act as Ministries of Information around the world. Sorting through political polarization, confirmation bias, post-truth politics and propaganda is where the political editor shines, and where our Founding Fathers began in scratching out the first principles of their republic.

Amongst our ranks are the essential servants who conduct a range of operations and services that are critical to a society. These are they who provide a critical service at perhaps the highest risk of exposure to the coronavirus. Each and all were bound not only to a critical mission, but to a code of conduct where civic responsibility often came at the cost of survival. Each of them stand shoulder to shoulder with the suffragists, civil rights activists, and revolutionary era soldiers who began this journey with a simple phrase, We the People…

What’s in a Word?

The U.S. National Archives has a whacking database of all the Founder’s writings and opinions, and a simple search on Founders Online reveals our founding fathers’ most frequently used word. From the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution, to the Bill of Rights and beyond, this word represented their ideal citizen and appears more often than any other including; freedom, democracy, or even the very republic they were trying to create. Without it, they said, a tyrant will inevitably reign.

The casualties of an autocracy are considerable and include;

350,000 Americans are dead.
2.3 million are without health insurance.
73,000 refugees have been turned away.
400 miles of barrier wall was erected.
666 children remain separated from their parents,
80+ environmental rules/regs were reversed
Our trade deficit now exceeds 600 billion, and
The national debt soared by 7 trillion.

All autocratic leaders have but one guiding principle. They consider self before the crew and state;

They’ll make 25K false or misleading statements.
They'll collect 200M after an election.
File 50 post-election lawsuits and refuse to concede.
Sue their own states, encourage them to secede, and
They’ll throw their own overboard,
Or anyone who disagrees,
Into the deep and and darkest sea.

Sailors who sat in the Crow’s Nest were commissioned to look out for land, but more often were guided to the shore in Newport Rhode Island by the Lime Rock Light. The vaccines are here, the anchor has dropped, we’ll soon have our boots on the ground. But when we emerge from the incredible storm of the Coronavirus pandemic, and U.S. presidential election, let our legacy be: We the People

“The institutions of democracy held,” president elect Joe Biden said, and perhaps because the three classes on Plato’s Ship of State — producer, protector, philosopher king — all coexist within each of us. Together, they culminate not only into a status and right to participate in the state, but into the Ideal Citizen: The first and most important step of statesmanship.

Greek and Enlightenment philosophers, together with our illustrious founding fathers, all distrusted democracy and warned it could devolve into tyranny if but for a valiant few. Devil to pay and long overdue, let us join their search for virtue.

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