Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli
Make America Great Again. Fighting for us. Re-igniting the Promise of America. A New American Century. Unleash The American Dream. Real Leadership. Slogans play a major role in every presidential campaign. Their few words succinctly summarize the candidate’s position. They capture the voters’ attention and inspire confidence. Each new election offers the nation the hope to begin anew, to address its problems with fresh insights and to usher in a better day. Slogans for change instinctively resonate well with American voters.
Clever politicians who know human nature can craftily ply campaign slogans. They may play on the discouragement and disappointment of the people with their government. They may even tap into the voters’ baser instincts, scapegoating certain groups of individuals to solve the nation’s problems. One would hope that candidates challenge their listeners to rise to heights of courage and sacrifice.
Beneath the surface of every political slogan lurks the promise of better days to come. It is as if the nation must be delivered from its current bad state; and, there now appears on the stage of history the one individual capable of “saving” the nation. In a sense, inherent in our presidential campaigns, there is a latent political messianism.
In 2008, America faced a bad economy and an unpopular entanglement in the bloody conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Americans desperately longed for deliverance. The supporters of then Senator Barak Obama applied the titles of “chosen,” “called” and “anointed one” to him. The media took their cue from these descriptions in reporting on the young, charismatic, and hopeful candidate. The use of religious rhetoric reinforced the voters’ desire for better times.
Religious language has been a part of the American political enterprise from its very beginnings. America was born with a religious affirmation. It began with the self-evident truth that “all men are created equal” and “they are endowed by the Creator with certain inalienable rights.”
Our Founding Fathers may have separated church from state, but they did not divorce religion from political discussions. They refused allegiance to an earthly monarch as the guide to the nation’s moral life. Instead, they acknowledged deep-seated goodness in each person as a source of national liberty. They realized that a virtuous and moral-living populace is the basis for true freedom.
Many a slogan of today’s age of relativism and tolerance trumpets the idea of unbridled freedom. Every individual has the right, so it is said, to his or her own ideas. And, no government has the ability to curtail them. According to this way of thinking, the standards of right and wrong belong to the private realm of conscience, not to the public order of society.
History proves otherwise. Great civilizations collapse when the moral order is violated. Goodness, as given in the moral law, alone guarantees a society’s well being. As George Washington said in his farewell address, “It is substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government.”
No president will ever be the Messiah that saves the nation. Redemption lies elsewhere. Citizens with the right moral compass will support those candidates who promote values consistent with our deeply religious heritage. Their votes allow society to rise above its problems and prosper.
However, citizens who have lost their sense of morality will be attracted to empty words and false promises for personal gratification. By not taking the moral high ground, they will hasten the demise of liberty. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “Only a moral and virtuous people are capable of freedom; the more vicious and corrupt a society becomes — the more it has need of masters.” Ultimately, the election of any particular person to the presidency is a reflection on the morality of those who are voting.