I wanted to switch gears a bit this week, ahead of our nation’s 246th birthday. This is a symbolic weekend in American history.
These weekly pieces are designed to inform, educate, and perhaps even entertain you a little. They’re generally Market pieces. The Market touches pretty much everything. They’re also human pieces, written from scratch. My goal is to be a clear and stable voice in what feels like a sea of instability in recent years. There are heavy pressures at every angle in America right now. Politics are at the heart of them all. I always have to straddle the 3rd rail, which is politics, as well as other social and geopolitical issues. They are no doubt contentious and heated. I don’t enjoy that part. But I do embrace the importance and try to tackle it head-on. I always focus on facts and try to interpret them from a Market perspective.
I love the intellectual stimulation of navigating the Market with anticipation of outcomes. We study signals, developments, and trends. We never have all the information, which is why paying attention to clues and patterns is so critical. There has been no shortage of material to cover in recent years. I wrote last week that 2022 has been like one big stress test. The fact is, our nation’s history has been tested from the outset. Its original framework was a complete test. Our Founding Fathers had an idea and converted it into a union of states; The United States. It was considered an experiment; The Great American Experiment. It’s being tested again.
My life’s work is based on studying history, to understand the what and the why so that I can make informed and effective decisions in anticipation of the future. Many of you know that I was a History major at Cal. I wrote my thesis on Mark Twain in the Western Frontier. I was drawn to his wit, his sense of self, sense of humanity and sense of humor. Twain was a quirky, funny dude. Long before he wrote Tom and Huck, Samuel Clemens spent an impressionable time in Virginia City, Nevada and later San Francisco. In fact, it’s out west where the pen name “Twain” was born. “Mark Twain” was a common phrase used on the Mississippi River in the 19th century. It measured 2 fathoms deep (12 feet), which meant safe water for riverboats. Sam Clemens longed to be a riverboat pilot as a kid. It was one of the most glamorous jobs of his day. He achieved it. But when the Civil War broke out, the young Clemens headed west to join his brother in the Nevada territory.
Mark Twain is one of the most quoted in American history. His most recognized quote perhaps is, “The coldest Winter I ever spent was the Summer in San Francisco.” Twain had a unique way with words. He famously said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” There are 2 other not-so-well-known quotes that come to mind that speak to this stage of the American Experiment: “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it,” and “It’s no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense.”
These are trying times for our nation. You don’t need me to tell you that. Sentiment is just so sour. America feels so far from perfect right now. The land of the free and home of the brave is being tested, at seemingly every angle. But the greatness of America, as I see it, is that it admits up front that we aren’t perfect. We never have been. Our imperfections are what drive us to be better. We as a people strive to be more perfect. Our flag stands for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That very commitment has been challenged since birth. It hasn’t stopped. The stars & stripes have evolved over the years. But that commitment to be more perfect separates us from everyone else. Great leaders have the courage to admit their mistakes. Great leaders have the desire to listen. Facing adversity is nothing new for America. Our nation’s history is full of challenges that we’ve overcome. More lie ahead. The experiment is incomplete. There’s more work to be done.
Ben Franklin was well aware of the risks our democracy faced at the very outset. He was reportedly asked on the steps of Independence Hall during the Constitutional Convention what type of government we have. His famous response: “It’s a republic, if you can keep it.” The young nation’s success was far from certain. Franklin went on to say that “nothing is certain except death and taxes.” You know that one well.
George Washington was unanimously elected, twice, to lead these newly formed United States. Think about that for a second. Imagine anything unanimous today. Washington was humble in his approach to the Presidency. He was very mindful of the precedents he would set and the lasting legacy he wished; For the sustainable success of the country. There were no guarantees of success. Far from it. Washington emphasized patriotism and standing for something greater than oneself. He said: “Individuals entering into society, must give up a share of liberty to preserve the rest.”
Today, you can’t go anywhere or see much of anything, in print, online or on television, that doesn’t speak to the divisions across the country. Covid exposed every vulnerability of our society. Everything, and I mean everything, has become political these days. And it’s like everyone’s in a constant bad mood, looking for problems instead of solutions. The Media and, even more so, Social Media, feed off the division. There’s a whole lot of shouting and very little listening. It’s not healthy.
Ronald Reagan’s lasting image of America being that shining city on the hill to the rest of the world seems to have dimmed. Right now, America probably looks more like that crazy, dysfunctional family in the neighborhood where constant yelling occurs inside the house. Sometimes it spills outside too. The neighbors hope that it ultimately goes away, but every time things simmer down, something else erupts and the dysfunction continues. It’s everywhere.
Abraham Lincoln poignantly stated that, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Of course, he was right. He still is. The thing is, we the people have so much more in common than we do not. The vast majority of Americans simply want a fair opportunity for themselves and prosperity for their family. The average American is decisively in the middle, while the extremes, though small in numbers, are so very loud with words. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are what we Americans signed up for. But it’s the negative stuff that sells in Washington. We need more light shined on the positives. There’s so much good going on that doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. I like to tell stories about the good, to give it fuel and oxygen. Fuel and oxygen for the good is a powerful thing.
America is a Superpower. It’s an Empire. But it’s still an idea. America remains an experiment. But this experiment has been a great success in so many ways. America has experienced prosperity like few others in history. The Stock Market has been one of the greatest wealth creators and engines of growth and innovation. Under this flag, iconic companies like Coca-Cola, Microsoft and Amazon were established and changed lives forever. Names like Edison, Ford, Einstein and Jobs saw things others couldn’t and did things few thought possible. It all happened under the flag. This flag put a Man on the Moon and it made the trip too.
It should be noted that Hershel “Woody” Williams left us this week. He was 98 years young. Corporal Williams was the last of the Medal of Honor recipients of WWII. It’s our nation’s highest military award for valor. Williams was at Iwo Jima when the flag was planted and raised, captured in the iconic photo. Williams eliminated a series of Japanese machine gun posts over the course of 4 hours, by himself. It cleared the way for American tanks and the rest of the troops to take the island. The flag would not have flown without Woody’s actions. Iwo Jima was the bloodiest battle in the history of our Marine Corps. Williams was one of the last living members of what is considered to be our greatest generation.
The American flag flies high, above it all. It’s been that way since Betsy Ross sewed the first one in the Spring of 1776. It survived in Baltimore Harbor, as evidenced by the dawn’s early light. Despite the heavy attack, our flag was still there. That star-spangled banner comes down with honor, every evening, and rises above every morning. Stars and Stripes will fly low, at half-mast, with respect to our fallen. That’s simply its way. It’s always been.
The 4th of July has always been special in my household. My oldest daughters were born on July 3rd. I’ve always told them they share a birthday, sort of, with Stars & Stripes, and that means fireworks to celebrate. They like that. I like that they like that. We’ve been doing it for what will be 15 years this weekend.
So, let’s celebrate the 4th. It’s Stars & Stripes’ birthday. There will be barbecues and cold beverages from coast to coast. That’s the American way. But it’s so important to remember that it’s first and foremost Independence Day, and what that all means. It means something really special; If we embrace it. We the people are in constant pursuit of a more perfect union. We’ve had some serious setbacks. But that’s not new either. We’ve overcome adversity many times before. We’re going to do it a whole lot more.
I bid you farewell with this “Ragged Old Flag.” You might have heard it. Johnny Cash wrote this powerful song in the wake of Watergate. He said he was disenchanted with the White House and what Washington DC had become. The words are timeless, and particularly ring true again today.
I don’t like to brag
But we’re kinda proud of that ragged old flag
You see, we got a little hole in that flag there when
Washington took it across the Delaware
And it got powder-burned the night that Francis Scott Key
Sat watching it writing oh say can you see
And it got a bad rip in New Orleans
With Packingham and Jackson tuggin’ at its seams
And it almost fell at the Alamo
Beside the Texas flag, but she waved on though
She got cut with a sword at Chancellorsville
And she got cut again at Shiloh Hill
There was Robert E. Lee, Beauregard, and Bragg
And the south wind blew hard on that ragged old flag
On Flanders field in World War I
She got a big hole from a Bertha gun
She turned blood red in World War II
She hung limp and low a time or two
She was in Korea, Vietnam
She went where she was sent by her Uncle Sam
She waved from our ships upon the Briny foam
And now they’ve about quit waving her back here at home
In her own good land here she’s been abused
She’s been burned, dishonored, denied, and refused
And the government for which she stands
Is scandalized throughout the land
And she’s getting threadbare and she’s wearing thin
But she’s in good shape for the shape she’s in
‘Cause she’s been through the fire before
And I believe she can take a whole lot more
So we raise her up every morning
We take her down every night
We don’t let her touch the ground
And we fold her up right
On second thought, I do like to brag
‘Cause I’m mighty proud of that ragged old flag
Have a nice weekend. Happy Birthday Stars & Stripes! The Market will be closed Monday in honor of Independence Day. Our office will be closed too.
We’ll be back, dark and early on Tuesday.