CNN political commentator talks lessons from Washington’s Farewell Address

Media Credit: Eric Lee | Staff Photographer

Avlon said Washington was worried that issues like “hyper-partisanship, excessive debt, foreign wars and foreign influences in our elections or domestic debates” could topple the United States' fragile democracy.

CNN political commentator John Avlon talked about the lessons from George Washington’s Farewell Address applicable to today at the Jack Morton Auditorium Thursday.

Avlon discussed his book, which details George Washington’s warnings to the fledgling United States in the farewell address he gave in 1796 upon stepping down from the presidency. Avlon talked about how the warnings apply to the current political climate in an event moderated by history professor Denver Brunsman that was part of the University’s Presidential Distinguished Event Series.

“Because of technology today, we are facing multi-dimensional issues,” Avlon said. “You guys will have to be ready for that.”

Avlon joined CNN in 2018 as a senior political analyst and anchor, hosting the network’s “Wingnut of the Week” segment, during which he would criticize famous people for taking partisanship to an extreme. He currently hosts CNN’s “Reality Check” segment, which aims to inform the public about national issues or individuals that have been covered improperly in the media or not covered enough.

Avlon’s book, “Washington’s Farewell: The Founding Father’s Warning to Future Generations,” was published in 2017. He said Washington’s address was an important milestone in U.S. history because it marked the country’s first peaceful transition of power.

“It was a final revolutionary act in a revolutionary life,” Avlon said. “First, simply because he gave up power. We forget how unusual that was in the course of history. We tend to take that for granted today.”

He added that Washington, as the nation’s first head of state, was “very conscious” that he was a “president without precedent.” He said Washington’s nonpartisan political stances were crucial to keeping the United States together in its genesis years.

“Jefferson and Hamilton could only agree on one thing and one thing only at the time – if Washington retires, the nation will devolve into civil war,” he said.

Avlon, drawing from Washington’s address, listed priorities of Washington’s that have been continually violated throughout American history. He said Washington laid out “core warnings” that had historically destroyed republics, like “hyperpartisanship, excessive debt, foreign wars and foreign influences in our elections or domestic debates.”

“These concerns are not distant,” Avlon said. “The Founding Fathers were applying lessons of history to their own time to try and create a structure that they can give to us. But it requires every generation to rededicate themselves to liberty and thinking in ways that go beyond all of our interesting divisions.”

He said America’s inability to heed these existing warnings – which have led to serious consequences for the United States throughout history – may contribute to the country’s demise.

“When you hear about these forces that we’re dealing with today, it’s for a very good reason,” he said. “It’s rooted in foundational wisdom given to us by the Founding Fathers, and we’d better listen.”

Avlon added that Americans have the opportunity now to “draw from history” and situate ourselves in a way to strengthen the country.

“We will always be an imperfect people trying to form a more perfect union,” Avlon said, referring to the U.S. Constitution’s Preamble. “But we’ve got to continue to try.”

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