As a longtime conservative and Republican, I love Presidents Day. Every year, it reminds us of our great leaders and their characteristics that defined our nation. 

George Washington, more than any other president, shaped our national character. Though by no means perfect, Washington’s character and actions helped establish the most stable and prosperous nation in history, and they still reverberate in our national psyche.

First, Washington was a unifier. He dedicated his life to unifying a diverse people into a single nation, first as the commander in chief during the Revolution and later as the first president.

Second, more than any other founder, Washington put his country ahead of his own interests. During the Revolutionary War, General Washington refused pay and accepted only expenses paid. As president, he funded much of his governmental duties himself. He sacrificed his privacy and security for decades, leaving retirement multiple times to further the cause of America. 

Finally, Washington believed that the people, not himself, were the ones who held power. After the Revolutionary War, he easily could have assumed control of the nation as a military dictator or even a king. Instead, Washington gave his sword and authority back to the Continental Congress, the people’s elected representatives. As president, despite knowing he could easily win reelection for a third term, Washington left the presidency voluntarily. This set a priceless precedent of humility and the peaceful transfer of power that has saved our country from the violence, intimidation and will to cling to power common elsewhere. This tradition is fundamental to American institutions, fostering stability and therefore prosperity. In large part, Americans owe our civic values and the rule of law we enjoy to Washington’s example. 

The core principles Washington instilled in America still define our nation. However, in recent history, some have worked to intentionally undermine these values. Leaders from both parties have sought to divide America rather than to unify it. A former president vilifies anyone who disagrees with him and promises to punish them with dictatorial fervor. Rather than using his influence to calm tensions and prevent violence, he encourages it for his personal benefit, to the profound detriment of our nation. And far from using his own resources to benefit the nation, as Washington did, a billionaire uses campaign donations for his own legal defense.

Our former president’s deliberate campaign of election interference lies purposefully undermines credibility in our government and institutions, and is more worthy of Venezuela or Soviet Russia than the United States. Far from following Washington’s example of handing over his sword to the people, a former president has turned his sword against them and their country with lies, divisive rhetoric and violence.

This is not a purely Republican problem. Both sides cling desperately to power rather than yielding it early and honorably. Despite their age and questionable fitness for office, both our current and former presidents see themselves as the only saviors for what ails the nation.  

In 2024, we need leaders like George Washington: leaders who cherish fundamental American democratic values rather than partisan power. Leaders without a savior complex who put America before themselves. Presidents who fear becoming dictators rather than aspiring to become them. America deserves better than our current and former presidents. A Biden-Trump election is not inevitable. There are other and better candidates. Washington sacrificed his life and honor to give us the chance to choose wise and virtuous leaders like himself. I know we can. 

John Woolley is an entrepreneur in the health care space where public policy and innovative solutions intersect. He holds both a bachelor’s and a Master of Business Administration degree from Stanford University. He lives in Salt Lake City with his wife and children.