Last Wednesday morning, Ruthie and I arrived early at 157 Poplar to be among the first hundred people or so to vote in Shelby County. I must confess that I’m a “political junkie” who enjoys following campaigns and elections. But one thing that troubles me about our process of selecting leaders and deciding issues is those elections, by their very nature, prompt candidates and voters to think in short-term time horizons. Especially this year in which our lives have been turned upside down, it’s hard to think how we may wish our society to look even four years from now, much less 50 years ahead, when we’re not sure what changes, twists and turns are in store for us over the next week!
I found a refreshing book to read during this election season. It’s entitled How Ike Led: The Principles Behind Eisenhower’s Biggest Decisions by President Dwight Eisenhower’s granddaughter Susan Eisenhower. She writes of her grandfather’s time period as president: “Engaging one’s deepest self was easier in those days – with long waits between letters and long-distance phone calls deferred until Sunday when the rates were cheaper. Today, tethered to smart-phones and transfixed by Twitter and Instagram, we lurch from one demand to another with scarcely a moment to think. Our impulses are reactive, not considered. They are short-term rather than strategic. We have lost our capacity to act in the present while thinking into the future. We are struggling.”
While conceding that her grandfather was not a perfect person or leader, Susan goes on to write about his gift: “To understand Eisenhower is to understand that in war and peace his primary aim was to foster unity of purpose and to approach every issue from an ‘architectural perspective’ – in other words to begin any significant undertaking by framing it and building a strong foundation for future betterment. He was keenly aware that no president has the time to finish fully any major initiative, so a sustainable approach, approved on a bipartisan basis, must be advanced at the outset.”
While the pandemic has caused us “to do Calvary” and so many things in our lives in ways we never envisioned, it has also uncovered a lot of long-term issues in stark and visible ways – broken supply chains; rampant inequality and poverty; racial injustice; climate change; a health care system built around intervention rather than prevention; the impacts of automation and technology on how and where we work; and personal, national, and global debt, just to name a few. Scripture invites us to take the long view toward how our decisions today will affect our “children’s children.” St. Paul writes, “We look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:18)
Susan Eisenhower closes her book with some questions worth pondering as we vote and, more importantly, as we live and seek to make a positive difference as citizens: “In the years ahead will we manage to provide our children and grandchildren that sense of peace and security we felt as youngsters? Will the futures we are crafting for them ensure their chance to prosper without the fear of dislocation and national insolvency? Will we bequeath them a country that values and nurtures our democratic system – one that stands above all others as a beacon of tolerance, a land of equal opportunity? Or will we fail them and ourselves and choose expediency and self-serving over sacrifice and stewardship? I reflect on this as I drive along the back roads of town near my grandparents’ farm – on the famous ridges where America fought to become a nation of justice and equality. Our country urgently needs, again, a sense of national purpose and a vision for the future – and a commitment, I can still hear my grandfather say, to ‘leave the place better than we found it.’”