Groundhog Day: A Question of Shadows and Light

We find ourselves in search of a leader. Recent political debates highlight an array of personalities. Each stands before an American electorate with necks craned like window shoppers trying to get a good look inside. The clamor of candidates stirs many boiling pots.

Photo Credit: Syracuse Media Group

Punxsutawney Phil offers us more than a weather forecast. With divergent leadership visions swirling in the air, will we emerge from our own comfortable dens, or will we shy away? Some voters have already made up their minds although horses have hardly left the starting gate.

Rest assured that this is an especially unusual election year, overshadowed by emerging fears and tomorrow’s uncertainties. Will we choose more of the same or something new?

As the future remains a distant and as-yet undiscovered place, let us look back. Writing in March 1776, before America’s independence question was firmly decided, Bostonian John Adams envisioned a nation sustained by virtue, noting:

“Fear is the foundation of most governments; but is so sordid and brutal a passion, and renders men, in whose breasts it predominates, so stupid and miserable that Americans will not be likely to approve of any political institution which is founded on it.”

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America would be different. He invoked several key historical figures including “Confucius, Zoroaster, Socrates and Mahomet [Muhammed]” as others have also pointed out.

Adams imagined a nation that valued learning declaring,

“Laws for the liberal education of youth, especially of the lower class of people, are so extremely wise and useful that to a humane and generous mind, no expence for this purpose would be thought extravagant.”

How did the Founders design America’s government after the war? Did they start from scratch? Was it a brilliant act spontaneously wrought at the behest of some covert political muse?

The failed effort for states to coexist within a decentralized confederation provoked sweeping reforms. Crafting the American Constitution in 1787 was a collaborative process.

The Framers knew and studied history. They created something unique, erecting deliberately balanced safeguards to avoid the pitfalls of other extant governments in addition to those entrusted to memory alone. They would read widely, as Thomas Jefferson’s Library attests.

The Constitution answered the call of its own time with an enduring vision that still prevails. Our Founders sought not to replicate a British monarchy. They pulled from deep historical roots embodying pieces of ancient Greece and Rome, medieval England and Renaissance ideals.

Today’s leadership choices cannot depend upon heated controversies of the moment. We must carry in our own hearts and minds that same farsighted lens as our earliest leaders, those who cleared the forest of independence. They planted a fresh American flag into ground so hallowed by sacrifices, which made it theirs and ours. They did not flee from the shadows of uncertainty.

Groundhog Day has another lesson. We may recall the whimsical voices of Sonny and Cher singing a duet and experience an unmistakable wave of déjà vu. In that eponymous film, the protagonist must learn how to change his past mistakes for good. Only then can he escape the daily prison that had so unyieldingly held him as its captive.

Photo Credit: Northeast Ohio Media Group LLC

Whatever you do choose let wisdom light the way ahead instead of fear. One particular poem helped Nelson Mandela remember that message after living in prison for 27 years:

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.


Submitted by Jason Bowns

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