Ever pragmatic and goal-oriented, the inestimable Dr. Benjamin Franklin might have little to comment whimsically about in today’s United States. He might find reasons to return to France or even England.
He would look at modern-day politicians and cringe. As much as he viewed John Adams as rigid and puritanical, Franklin would consider 21st century politicians sorely lacking moral centers. Adams would seem Pope-liked in his virtues. His political descendants are eunuchs in comparison.
Franklin understood in his later years that slavery was an inescapable stain on the American social mosaic. The U.S. Constitution, to gain passage and approval by the southern states, left slavery in its heinous state in our new country. It was practical but harmful politics.
He would be struck by the power of political parties and the utter bitterness and rancor that divides them. He would find it nearly impossible to mediate, not only between the parties, but the tribes within them. He might consider it more pleasant and productive to engage his scientific bent than participate in do-nothing dialogue.
His rift with his son, ever loyal to the Crown, would seem mild (and it was anything but) to the irreconcilable conflicts between Democrats and Republicans. Franklin’s diplomatic skills and common sense would seem anachronistic today. He would question a culture that survived solely on differences inured to compromise.
The world and his country respected Franklin’s stature as a “great man,” a person widely regarded for his accomplishments as a businessperson, diplomat, scientist, philosopher and a founder of an increasingly significant young country. Is there anyone in our nation comparable to Franklin? I think not.
He was a prototypical self-made person, equipped when he moved from strait-laced Boston to free-wheeling Philadelphia with abundant ambition, curiosity and work ethic. Opportunities for financial success and civic betterment abounded in Philadelphia, his adopted city.
He relentlessly sought personal growth and professional achievement. He did both.
He epitomized the traits of a go-getter. Would he be equally successful today? Maybe.
As do many, I wonder if leadership personified by Franklin is even possible today in our fractious country. The need has never been greater or more urgent. At this point, I would care not a whit if the leader were a Democrat or Republican. I would draw the line in the center, excluding the extremists in each party.
I can suggest no possible unifying leaders. I wish I could. I can enumerate traits appealing to me and possibly to others:
Character; honesty; team player; politically savvy; visionary; effective and credible communicator; respected on both sides of the aisle; willing to compromise and share credit; tackle and resolve knotty problems; attuned to problems facing the rich and poor; passionate about solutions; even temperament; accessible as much as possible and resolute.
This list is long. A person who embodies all these traits may be a figment of my imagination. But I am optimistic that a unifying leader exists. No one comes to mind.
Ben Franklin set a standard for excellence as a public servant. Despite his innumerable accolades and a tendency to pay them too much due, he sought no high office (too old in his opinion). He felt satisfied with a seat at the table in composing the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. He contributed wisdom and insight. He understood fellowship.
Dr. Franklin was an optimist, I believe. Guided by 13 virtues, used to measure himself, he strove constantly for self-improvement. Moderation was his lodestar. And he gained financial success and international acclaim. He did so with intelligence and self-awareness.
Anyone out there who wishes to emulate Ben Franklin and unify and lead our country? Step forward please.
Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.