Michael Medved on America’s Historic Role

BY Catherine Yang TIMEJuly 21, 2020 PRINT

Author and popular radio host Michael Medved’s book “God’s Hand on America” is his second book that presents the idea that not just Americans, but people around the world have for centuries marveled at America’s bizarre fortune, and recognized it as a blessing. But his point is not that America is the lucky beneficiary of some cosmic lottery, but that the nation serves a purpose it should strive to live up to.

“We have not been chosen because we are so great, we are so great because we have been chosen, and chosen for special responsibility as much as for special blessing,” Medved said in an interview late last month.

It’s a belief held since the inception of the country, and one that waxes and wanes in popular perception in every age. Medved is a great lover of history, particularly American history, which is on the one hand large and improbable, and on the other hand intimately personal, with ties to his own family history. His four grandparents and his mother were immigrants, and from a young age, his father would take him to sites such as Independence Hall and Valley Forge to share stories about the founding of the country.

Subtitled “Divine Providence in the Modern Era,” this book picks up where Medved’s “The American Miracle” left off and shows how American miracles continue even through times when we’re too cynical to see it. For example, countless near-death experiences have consistently caused the right men to be at the right place at the right time, with effects so far-reaching we can’t realize them until decades later, with results so illogical you’d be hard-pressed to call it anything but a miracle.

Medved reminds us that though Abraham Lincoln’s legacy is great, his early political career was anything but, and he just might be the most unlikely ever winner of a presidential campaign.

Lincoln, who referred to himself as “a humble instrument” of divine will, along with several other leaders, all had bizarre brushes with death that led them to believe they had been saved for some planned reason—Theodore Roosevelt (several times), Winston Churchill (while on American soil), Franklin Roosevelt, and Martin Luther King Jr. (also multiple times). We are able to revisit their tales in vivid detail in the book, and come away with a soberly optimistic sense of gratitude.

martin luther king jr
From age 5 to 6, Martin Luther King Jr. had three accidents that should have been fatal, and another one when he was 12. He would joke, ‘Well, I guess God was looking out for me even then. He must have given me a hard head just for that purpose.” (-/AFP via Getty Images)

“A pattern of happy accidents is still a pattern,” Medved often says. “It may not be apparent while they’re occurring, but when you look back, I think it behooves us to discern that pattern.”

Far-Reaching Impact

One of the lesser-known stories in the book features Lincoln’s secretary of state, William Henry Seward, told in a way that most people have never heard before.

If not for one near-death experience after falling out of a carriage, Seward would never have been put on a career path that led him to be part of Lincoln’s cabinet.

Decades later, Seward was caught in a second carriage accident—as a result, doctors had to put a metal brace around his jaw and bandage his head—causing him to survive a third incident while recuperating, when an assassin broke into his home in the middle of the night as part of a three-pronged plot targeting the Lincoln administration. Lincoln died, but Seward survived, and yet a third assassin meant to target the vice president apparently lost his nerve.

This created such unique political circumstances that Seward was left with the means to pursue a stranger-than-fiction deal to purchase Alaska (involving a fake Russian baron and a midnight sale), which later influenced the outcome of the Cold War. Stranger yet, Seward decided almost flippantly that he should also purchase a cluster of tiny, seemingly insignificant islands midway between California and Asia.

This Midway Atoll ended up, 75 years later, as the site of a miraculous and decisive World War II battle between the United States and Japan. 

theodore roosevelt
Theodore Roosevelt was a sickly, fragile child, and at age 12, his father told him, “You have the mind, but you have not the body, and without the help of the body the mind cannot go as far as it should. You must make your body … I know you will do it,” encouraging him to take up boxing. Death continued to stalk him throughout his life, sometimes missing him by inches. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

2020 and 1968

The incredible tales bring us up to the tumultuous year of 1968. First, there was the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., then the assassination of Robert Kennedy (at which Medved had been on-site as a 19-year-old campaign volunteer).

“He’s gone. Bobby’s gone. Oh, my God. Our poor country,” Medved remembers his father saying after seeing the death on the news.

“God might have withdrawn his blessing on America,” Medved quotes novelist John Updike in his book.

“When I wrote ‘God’s Hand on America,’ we hadn’t yet begun all this analogizing of 1968 with 2020,” Medved said. “But that whole reflection of 1968 was pertinent to me because as I describe in the book, I lived some of that history.”

There are definite similarities. Medved cites a recent poll where 80 percent of Americans reported they felt things were out of control this year.

“That’s certainly reflective of the way people felt in 1968 with the assassinations and violence,” Medved said, adding that perspective is important here. “One thing that we have in 1968 that we do not have now is extremely violent eruptions in major cities. We’ve had some violence, but it’s not comparable to the 150 riots that followed the death of Dr. King.”

There was also a tremendous feeling of collapse of the political system, Medved said, with the segregationist politician George Wallace winning 46 electoral votes and carrying five states as an independent. Out of the 71 million votes cast in that election, Richard Nixon won with 43.4 percent of the popular vote, compared to Hubert Humphrey’s 42.7 percent—a difference of only 500,000 votes. Wallace ended up with just under 13 percent of the popular vote.

Yet, looking at the 52 years after 1968 up to the present, Medved reminds people of the tremendous gains the world has made. The lesson may not be that history repeats itself; men repeat themselves, in our criticisms and laments, but history, at least through America, is on an upward trend. And there is cause for optimism even regarding the criticism, a sign of a free society.

“Actually the first example of an American, most people are unaware of, was in the 1640s in Plymouth Colony, which was the Pilgrims, William Bradford wrote in his diary that he thought that God had removed his special blessing,” Medved said. Then in the 1740s with the Great Awakening, people proclaimed America was on an irreversible moral decline.

“It’s in and out, people say that all the time, and then they come back and recognize, well, maybe not, maybe that special role for the United States is still there,” Medved said. He discussed the history of that in detail in a previous book, “The 10 Big Lies About America.”

“I think it’s actually one of those aspects of America that is exceptional and that is admirable. There are very few societies that are constantly as self-reflective and self-critical as the United States.”

With Purpose and Direction

American history has been more satisfying to study than any other history because of the sense of purpose and direction, Medved said.

The general role of the nation has been to lead and inspire the world, and it isn’t a stretch to picture what happens in the world when America doesn’t.

“The point over here is that if America continues to falter, if we deny what I believe to be our God-given role in leading and inspiring the world, then that doesn’t mean the world is better, it means the world is infinitely worse,” he said.

Because I don’t believe that the Chinese Communist regime or Russia or the European Union, Heaven help us, or any other combination of countries, can replicate the leadership role of the United States. I think you’d have increasing chaos and violence and instability, from which the United States has remarkably blessed the rest of world for a long time.” 

“One thing that most Americans are not conscious of is the literally hundreds of millions, and probably billions of lives that have been saved, literally saved, and redeemed in the last 50 years: The emergence from desperate poverty, the emergence from astonishingly brutal tyranny. … Americans look at China today and they see a fairly grim and corrupt authoritarian regime, but they don’t have any knowledge of what the Cultural Revolution was, and the vast slaughter of the Maoist era or the evil empire of the Soviets and the literally 100 million minimum documented deaths that the so-called communist experiment visited on the world; without the United States the rollback of that monstrous evil is inconceivable,” Medved said.

He views the United States the way Lincoln wrote of himself, a “humble instrument” of divine will.

“It troubles me that people misinterpret the idea of American exceptionalism to mean we have exceptional privileges,” he said. “We don’t, but because history has thrust us into this position, we have exceptional responsibilities, and the best way to comprehend those responsibilities, I’ll actually defer to a German: Otto von Bismarck, the so-called Iron Chancellor, once said it was the job of the statesman to listen for God’s footsteps in history, and then to grab his coattails and hang on.”

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