Welcome, Englishmen

This is an essay about American history. It is not an essay about American presidential politics.

Or is it?

Unquestionably, though, it is a true story about the Pilgrims who sailed to the New World on the Mayflower, and who developed a tiny and struggling community within a hostile wilderness. Shortly after they landed, they began to confront the brutal realities of death, disease, starvation, frigid weather, and a hostile relationship with the surrounding Native American tribes.

One day, as several Pilgrims stood chatting on their village hill, they spotted an Indian warrior on the next hill. Immediately, they called their tiny community to arms and fell into a defensive position, braced for an attack.

So what did that Native American warrior do? He strode briskly down his hill. Then he crossed the small valley. Then he climbed the Pilgrim’s hill and walked right up to the little group of settlers, crouching behind their muskets.

They all paused for a moment and stared at each other. The Pilgrims were terrified that they had come face-to-face with a savage warrior, leading a catastrophic invasion. And then the Native American threw upon his arms, smiled broadly, and clearly proclaimed:

Welcome, Englishmen!

The moment was captured in two different Pilgrim memoirs, and it changed the course of American history. The warrior, a man named Samoset, helped launch an era of friendly relations that extended through the First Thanksgiving and resulted in the birth of the American nation.

It was a beautiful moment, wasn’t it? Now imagine, if you will, that he hadn’t proclaimed Welcome, Englishmen. Imagine, instead, that he had gestured to the dark and threatening forest and snarled:

There you will find death, destruction and weakness. You will be helpless to die at the hands of savage killers. Your men, women and children will be viciously mowed down. And I alone can fix it for you. I am your voice.

Would the Pilgrims have listened to him? Perhaps briefly. After all, a message like that does tend to grab one’s attention, doesn’t it? But in the long run, it’s hard to believe that such a frightening message would have generated the goodwill that carried the Pilgrims through their catastrophic early years.

Ever since Samoset’s moment of first contact, Americans have learned that a bold, brash, outspoken, and aggressive attitude is a common trait of an effective leader. And yet, as the Indian warrior demonstrated to the Pilgrims, such audacity is only proven effective when paired with an attitude that exudes optimism, goodwill, cheerfulness, and generosity.

This was an essay about American history. It was not an essay about American presidential politics.

Or was it?