A Shining City on a Hill

This was the phrase that Republican President Ronald Reagan repeatedly used to describe America — on the eve of his election in 1980:

I have quoted John Winthrop’s words more than once on the campaign trail this year — for I believe that Americans in 1980 are every bit as committed to that vision of a shining ‘city on a hill’, as were those long ago settlers …
These visitors to that city on the Potomac do not come as white or black, red or yellow; they are not Jews or Christians; conservatives or liberals; or Democrats or Republicans. They are Americans awed by what has gone before, proud of what for them is still… a shining city on a hill.

And again in his January 11, 1989, farewell speech:

I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it, and see it still.

And before him, Democratic President John F. Kennedy used the same imagery.

I have been guided by the standard John Winthrop set before his shipmates on the flagship Arbella three hundred and thirty-one years ago, as they, too, faced the task of building a new government on a perilous frontier. “We must always consider”, he said, “that we shall be as a city upon a hill — the eyes of all people are upon us”. Today the eyes of all people are truly upon us — and our governments, in every branch, at every level, national, state and local, must be as a city upon a hill — constructed and inhabited by men aware of their great trust and their great responsibilities. For we are setting out upon a voyage in 1961 no less hazardous than that undertaken by the Arbella in 1630. We are committing ourselves to tasks of statecraft no less awesome than that of governing the Massachusetts Bay Colony, beset as it was then by terror without and disorder within. History will not judge our endeavors — and a government cannot be selected — merely on the basis of color or creed or even party affiliation. Neither will competence and loyalty and stature, while essential to the utmost, suffice in times such as these. For of those to whom much is given, much is required…

America as a shining city upon a hill is a unifying vision that Democrats and Republicans have always shared. America is and always has been great, even as it is and always has been flawed. We should constantly strive to become that Great American Ideal, and never diminish our greatness as a nation with locked gates, forbidding walls, or citizens afraid of the shadows without. We have long stood as the Great Beacon of Light in this world, drawing the inspired from every corner of the globe, and welcoming them into our heartfelt embrace as brothers and sisters. It is an idealistic aspiration that transcends politics, and which has spread far beyond our own shores.

Today is Election Day.

I am a fiercely independent American citizen who casts my ballot based on each candidate’s policies, values, and character — not by party affiliation. I am a patriot without a political tribe.

Today, I will vote for those who still believe in America as a shining city on a hill.

Today, I vote for candidates who share these American Values:

  • Aspiration to great statesmanship, exhibiting rock-solid integrity, and leading us by moral and ethical example — much as Father of our Country, George Washington, did when he began this Grand Experiment in Democracy. He was an American President revered by all of his contemporaries, regardless of party affiliation.
  • Cherish democracy, free speech, and a free press, as did the brilliant James Madison, who enshrined these American Values in the Bill of Rights to the American Constitution.
  • Open our hearts and our country to those who are different from us, recognizing that diversity and equality make us stronger and enrich our collective Union — in the example of Abraham Lincoln, the greatest of all Republican Presidents.
  • Lead the global community in fairness and collaboration, in the spirit of Teddy Roosevelt, who positioned American onto the world stage, and urged us to “walk softly and carry a big stick” as we became the most powerful nation on Earth.
  • Open markets to free trade, trusting in American innovation and ingenuity, celebrating the long successful legacy of Alexander Hamilton, who placed America onto the most successful economic path in the history of the world. This is a time to build our bright future together, rather than futile efforts to resurrect a fading day long gone.

My Fellow Americans, accept nothing less than ethical excellence and moral leadership when you go to the polls today.

Be guided by your better angels, and banish the lingering demons of isolationism, protectionism, divisiveness, and disrespect from our body politic.

America is great, and always has been.

Whether or not it remains so is up to all of us — Democrats, Republicans, and the rest of us.