A funny word, "prudent." It's old-fashioned and kind of frumpy. I particularly remember when George Herbert Walker Bush, surely the best president of my lifetime, exulted in using it repeatedly.
When something foolish or stupid or just shortsighted would come up, he would consider action and then say, almost seeming to mimic the voices of his childhood: "Wouldn't be prudent!" It was his mother's favorite word, I later learned, and I'll just bet he's used it a-plenty over this electoral season.
But what is it doing hanging about in my cluttered head, as Donald Trump, for whom "prudence" is nothing more than a dirty word. What could such an old-fogey word have to do with our new-age problems?
"Prudent," in case you've never heard this word, simply means "acting with or showing care and thought for the future." Our Founding Fathers used to say they were planning our democracy for thousands of generations. Honey, that takes prudence, in addition to good feet, believe me!
Prudence is exactly what we haven't seen much of since the end of World War II, and particularly since the end of the Cold War in 1991, yet it is exactly what our next president, God willing, must be if we are to survive as a workable, thriving and leadership-worthy democracy.
Here are a few areas where our next president could inspire the American people to engage in change that could start to bring together the two ends of our political public square, both in domestic and foreign affairs.
-- First, clean up America. Whether I am in Washington or my hometown of Chicago, I am disgusted by the dirtiness and filth around me. Perhaps I should be amused by my foreign friends who, only half-jokingly, chide me that "America's now a Third World country!" I'm not amused, because they're right.
Example: Have you ridden Amtrak, which many foreign visitors and dignitaries ride, between Washington and New York lately? If you do, wear blinders. One decrepit and filthy building sweeps past after the other; then come the garbage and old car dumps. If you're lucky, you'll have a terrible headache and fall asleep.
-- Second, restore civic education and instruction in American history. Put these classes at the forefront of every school in the country. Some of us have been writing about this for years. To slightly paraphrase The Donald, if we don't, we won't have a country. He's right about that.
Instead, we've joked about our ignorance, we've watched "Saturday Night Live," had a drink and gone to sleep. Only, it's not funny, it's tragic!
-- Third, our new president should start a genuine discussion about American "exceptionalism." First used by Alexis de Tocqueville, the brilliant Frenchman who wandered our new land in the 1830s, the term came to mean a country inspired by God to introduce a "new nation" to the world, to democratize ourselves and to transform the world, as well. In truth, our exceptionalism was a result of the Protestant ethic of the original settlers and the protection of two great oceans.
But today, instead of employing a prudent worldview to protect our beautiful land, we push out recklessly and imprudently to fight Vietnamese, Iraqis, Afghanis, Somalis, Libyans ... oops, I'm running out of space. Oh well, there won't be left anyway, of these unfortunates by the time we're done with them.
Example: Iraq, though under the thumb of an unspeakable monster, was a country that was rapidly developing when we moved in to "save" it in 2003 -- and thus, bomb after bomb, destroyed it. (Whether we have also destroyed our own reputation, not to speak of our own future, remains to be seen.)
The new president might outline for us an America under a different exceptionalism, one devoted to science, research and education, with a finely tuned strategic sense of where our power should or must or, most important, successfully be used.
The presidency of Father Bush from 1989 to '93 represented wise and, yes, prudent leadership. But one fears that it may be the last of the old Eastern Establishment that gave us FDR, Theodore Roosevelt and so many other great -- and prudent -- leaders. Will the new "meritocracy" of the Clintons, the Obamas and the fashionable think tanks in Washington meet our new challenges? So far, they have not.
What we do know is that our overall national sin since World War II has been imprudence -- carelessness and recklessness. History is unforgivingly clear about the fact that nation-states, societies and tribes that succeed are, in the long run, those overseen by cautious, sagacious and judicious leaders -- but those leaders must be inspired and pushed to be so by their people.
Do you suppose we beleaguered citizens still have the guts to do that pushing?
Georgie Anne Geyer