A historical document that rarely gets taught or discussed in our schools is Washington's Farewell Address. It was published on Sept. 19, 1796, in the American Daily Advertiser and was regularly taught in schools up until World War II. The address laid out Washington's vision for the nation, and the internal and external forces that threatened it.

Washington said that extreme partisanship "agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riots and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption." In 2017, partisanship has never been so bad. For the most part, little, if anything, gets done in Washington that benefits the American public although a lot gets done to benefit Wall Street and corporate America.


According to Washington, the rise of demagogues was a real danger. These are the people who exploit divided and dysfunctional democracies. Washington said, "The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later, the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty." The election of Donald Trump to the presidency follows Washington's assessment. Trump promises safety and security in exchange for sacrificing civil rights, personal liberty and constitutional rights. As Benjamin Franklin stated, when you sacrifice liberty for security, you get neither.

Washington stated that "the great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign affairs is extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connections as possible." He warned us of the dangers that come from foreign influence in our politics. Based on his understanding of history and his experience with French efforts to undermine our government, Washington warned us "against the insidious wiles of foreign influence ... the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government." Washington warned us that they would attempt to "mislead public opinion, to influence or awe the public councils." With Russian involvement in the 2016 election to favor Donald Trump, Washington's warning of foreign influence has come to fruition.

Washington also warned us that we must "Cherish public credit ... avoiding likewise the accumulation of debt, not only by shunning occasions of expense, but by vigorous exertion in time of peace to discharge the debts which unavoidable wars may have occasioned." In other words, we cannot let the deficit or national debt get out of control with excessive government spending without proper revenues to cover that spending. Spending $25 billion for a border wall is a ridiculous idea even Republicans are beginning to question.

In his address, Washington talked about solutions to keep democracy on the right course. He emphasized peace through strength, moderation, and the importance of virtue and public education. He also established the precedence of a peaceful transfer of power. It seems President Trump is ignoring Washington's solutions by alienating allies; employing extremist, unconstitutional policies — and ignoring virtue and the importance of public education.

We have lost our identity as Americans preferring to put the interests of self and party above the interests of the country. We ask not what you can do for your country anymore but what you can do for your party. We have lost our sense of community preferring to put self-interest above everything else. We need to get back to providing a sense of community where people care about each other promoting a healthy and secure environment of quality education, good paying jobs and quality health care.

You should read and discuss this important document lest we go further down the rabbit hole of authoritarianism and tyranny. You can learn more about the address online or by reading John Avlon's new book "Washington's Farewell."

David Iacono writes from Westminster.