President. Unfortunately, missing from the electoral process were the principles of civility that animated George Washington as what historian Forrest MacDonald called America’s “indispensable man.” Our president-elect has not reflected the demeanor that helped make Washington “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.”George Washington, the first president of the United States of America offered advice on how Donald Trump could help healing after our uncivil war of an election
Now, however, Donald Trump must govern rather than gripe about others’ failings, as he sees them. To do that successfully, a somewhat different approach may help. In that vein, he might profit from reading George Washington’s Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation. Written before Washington was 16, it focused on behaving “according to the custom of the better bred.”
Consider some of George Washington’s advice to himself and its relevance today for our next president.
Every action ... ought to be with some sign of respect to those who are present.
Speak not when you should hold your peace.
Show not yourself glad at the misfortune of another.
Always submit your judgment to others with modesty.
Undertake not to teach your equal in the art [he] professes; it savors of arrogance.
In reproving, show no sign of choler but do it with all sweetness and mildness.
Take all admonitions thankfully.
Mock not nor jest at anything of importance.
Wherein you reprove another be unblameable yourself.
Neither curse nor revile.
Let your conversation be without malice or envy ... And in all causes of passion admit reason to govern.
Utter not base and frivolous things amongst ... very difficult questions or subjects.
Speak not injurious words, neither in jest nor earnest.
Detract not from others.
Be not obstinate in your own opinion.
Reprehend not the imperfections of others.
Think before you speak.
Undertake not what you cannot perform.
In disputes, be not so desirous to overcome as not to give liberty to each one to deliver his opinion and submit to the judgment of the major part.
Contradict not at every turn what others say.
Be not tedious in discourse, make not many digressions, nor repeat often the same manner of discourse.
Speak not evil of the absent, for it is unjust.
Donald Trump, as well as Hillary Clinton, their surrogates, partisans, etc., trampled George Washington’s commitment to decorum during the uncivil war that led up to Nov. 8. Success in office will require healing wounds from that incivility. If American citizens are to benefit, however, Trump should also follow principles Washington articulated for governing.
The cause of America [is] liberty.
Express your utmost horror and detestation of the man who wishes, under any specious pretenses, to overturn the liberties of our country.
Liberty will find itself ... where the government ... [will] maintain all in the secure and tranquil enjoyment of the rights of person and property.
Under [government’s] protection; everyone will reap the fruit of his labors; everyone will enjoy his own acquisitions without molestation and without danger.
[Government] has no more right to put their hands into my pockets, without my consent, than I have to put my hands into yours.
Government is not reason. It is ... a dangerous servant and a terrible master. Never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action.
George Washington’s actions were essential to our revolution’s success. His character was equally important to the creation of America as “this land of equal liberty.” And he helped provide America what he celebrated as “the fairest prospect of happiness and prosperity that ever was presented to man” by governing without eviscerating our core principles. Washington would provide a useful model for Donald Trump in the city that was named for him.