It was about fifty years ago that I first saw this painting. I remember wooden floors and white plaster walls. Standing beside the painting was a docent, watching the visitors with grandfatherly pride. His job was to guard this treasure from grubby little fingers. My fingers.
Keeping us at a respectful distance was a red velvet rope suspended from heavy brass stands. They were much like the ones used in my church – I had the feeling that viewing this painting was a religious experience.
I turned to my mom and reverently asked, “did George Washington really stand up in the boat?”
“No,” she said with a smile. “That’s called ‘artistic license.'”
Throughout the 19th Century and into the twentieth this painting – and other works of art like it – symbolized America. When Americans thought about their country they pictured George Washington as the symbolic hero.
Washington, a wealthy landowner, risking his life, his fortune, and his sacred honor for the cause of liberty. Washington leading the rebel alliance against the imperial troops.
Washington on horseback; at Valley Forge; kneeling to pray; bloody footprints in the snow.
The painting I was viewing had been completed in 1851. Leutze’s “Washington Crossing the Delaware” had it all – a band of ill-clad men braving the cold of a late December night and the hazards of an ice-choked river to attack the Empire’s mercenaries – and winning.
A brave General, willing to undergo the same hardships as his ill-equipped and shivering men; an army of citizen soldiers, underdogs against a mighty empire; an army of individuals putting their trust in the Almighty God because their own power was so tiny; this was the American hero – the symbol of the United States.
But during the 20th century this image began to be replaced by a new one in the hearts of Americans. Someone decided that we needed a new hero – one more relevant to our times.
The new symbol of America is the corporate lawyer. He sits far from the battlefield, risking neither discomfort nor injury. His army has no place for individuals. It is a machine, formed, trained, and equipped to be the most devastating implement of destruction ever seen.
Who is this man, this great symbol of America?
Picture him, if you will: A lobbyist, made wealthy by securing government favors for his clients. A man whose loyalty lies not with the citizens, but with the corporations and the government. He will see American citizens slaughtered by the thousands if he considers it necessary to achieve his goals.
Yes, he’s the new American icon, the one who symbolizes America worldwide. Few quote George Washington anymore – but this man’s name is on everyone’s lips.
Now imagine him, risen to political power. He does not brave the cold, or kneel in the snow to seek guidance from above. No, he has a comfortable armchair from which, with a quiet word, he dispenses oppression and death on his enemies, favor and fortune on his friends. He doesn’t pray but he’s not an atheist – he worships big government.
This is America. This is the face of the new empire, the American empire.
When inaugurated he had two major goals – goals so critical that he rammed them through in his first months in office.
First he raised an army, literally, of tax collectors. An army equipped with the finest weapons ever seen on earth. It’s purpose was to ensure that the government coffers remained full. His second goal was to fund an enormous corporate welfare project for his cronies, his political supporters. He had made careful arrangements to ensure that he shared in the pelf.
How fortuitous that he was assassinated! This allows him to replace – not just George Washington – but even Jesus Christ in the hearts of Americans.
In 1936 a pagan temple was consecrated to his worship. It contains a two-story tall idol—a statue of the new saviour. In the stone behind the statue are carved the words,
IN THIS TEMPLE
AS IN THE HEARTS OF THE PEOPLE
FOR WHOM HE SAVED THE UNION
THE MEMORY OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN
IS ENSHRINED FOREVER