The idea of a “deep state” and “fake news’ is not new with the Trump administration. It began with critics of our first president, George Washington, whose birthday anniversary we celebrate Feb. 19.
And, revered around the world now even more than in his day, the “father of our nation” once again faces disparaging remarks from the “politically correct” media and protests from some in high places.
During his presidency, the man who led the American army to victory in the Revolutionary War, presided over the Constitutional Convention, served as a vestryman and warden in his church was called “treacherous,” “inefficient,” author of “ostentatious professions of piety” who “discharged the loathings of a sick mind” by journalists such as Benjamin Franklin Bache, William Duane and others at the General Advertiser and Aurora newspapers in New York.
Philip Freneau, a translation clerk under Thomas Jefferson at the State Department (later to head the opposition Republican party), was the source of much of the scurrilous information— some authored by Jefferson himself — fed to the press.
Bache even republished letters widely known to be forgeries written during the war for liberty “to prove the want of claim in Mr.Washington either to the gratitude or confidence of his country.”
The intervening years have seen the broad admiration for the successful Virginia farmer and surveyor who served wisely in that colony’s House of Burgesses and the Continental Congress grow to the status of icon for the standard he set as the leader of the new government.
However, the intensifying atmosphere in recent months of the political correctness of the past few years threatens the reputation not only of Washington and the other founders but heroes from as far back as Christopher Columbus and as recent as Dr. Martin Luther King.
(King, Columbus and Washington are the only three individuals honored with one each of the 10 federal holidays we celebrate.)
Last summer, when protests erupted throughout the nation against statues, flags and other symbols of the Confederacy, the controversy expanded to anyone — no matter what outstanding things they had accomplished or what community customs were at those times — who had owned slaves.
Angela Rye, a CNN political commentator and former executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus, called for the removal of all public statues of and monuments to Washington and Jefferson. Demands for changing the name of Chicago parks and removing statues honoring Washington and Andrew Jackson came from Bishop James Duke. And students at the University of Texas signed petitions urging removal of statues of Washington and Jefferson from the campus.
Perhaps surprisingly, in October even the church Washington helped found and where he served on the vestry symbolically turned its back on the president who frequently spoke about and often acted upon his faith.
At age 11, after the death of his father, George became the leader of daily family devotions which promoted familiarity with the Bible and the Anglican Prayer Book. By the time he was in command at Fort Necessity just 11 years later, he led his men in religious services on Sundays.
Often as a general of the Continental Army and as president he called the nation to prayer both for guidance and help and for thanksgiving. And in his farewell address to Congress as he left the presidency, he warned:
“Let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”
His tombstone at Mount Vernon is inscribed with a Biblical phrase from John 11:25 expressing Washington’s belief. It is a well known quote from Jesus Christ: “I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, he shall live.”
Yet the plaque bearing merely the words “In Memory of George Washington” which had been on the wall beside the altar of his home church in Alexandria, VA, since 1870 was removed, along with a similar one on the other side of the altar in memory of Robert E. Lee. The reason:
“The plaques in our sanctuary make some in our presence feel unsafe or unwelcome,” explained church leaders in a letter to the congregation.
Apparently Americans today are not as brave and strong-hearted as our forbearers.