This is what I’ve feared ever since I left college in 1997.
We’ve reached a crescendo of anger and partisanship in our nation. Those who we once believed were our best and brightest, offices which we once looked to for inspiration and hope, are now becoming synonymous with scandal and mistrust. We have a media which is so steeped in ideology on both sides, common sense has vanished. The notion of an America where anyone can become a success with hard work, a little luck, and some smarts is beyond endangered. It’s been eviscerated.
Everyone is angry at everyone. Family and friends are no longer speaking to each other, separated by ideology, preconceived notions, income disparity and occupation. Ours was a nation once admired for its ability to take the best features of any culture, any religion, and race, and make it our own. The ability to merge, to meld it all together into one made us the envy of the world. Today, we have allowed those who wish to do us harm to claim the ultimate victory. We’ve allowed them to drive us apart.
Worse still, we have allowed others to profit from our divisions. We have embraced them and entrepreneurs and innovators instead of what they really are: unpatriotic predators.
We are better than this. We don’t need tolerance or safe zones now. We don’t need gun control or fear mongering or opportunistic politicians. We don’t need platitudes, slogans, investigations, accusations or organizations. We don’t need moguls taking advantage of situations to enrich themselves. What is needed is what we fear the most, the hardest possible thing we could ever do as a people.
We need to wake up and accept that fact we cannot live In the past anymore.
Progress happens. Forward movement is part of life. Change is reality. Regression is what backwards societies such as North Korea and Iran have done. It’s what ISIS wants. Regression, for a nation such as ours, is death. The question for us is why we resist change so fervently. Why are some changes so embraced, while some are so repellent, and the only thing I could think of was an analogy I once offered a longtime friend. This man, who is an avid tea connoisseur, was asked a practical question; if your doctor told you that tea is lethal for you and that you must stop drinking it now and never touch it again, could you handle it? He admitted it was a very disturbing idea.
This is where we are now. We are a people facing tough choices we don’t want to make because it upsets our lifestyles, our narratives, or our worldview.
We’ve gone from a society of reasonable people to a society of folks who have been told what they must do or can’t do. We have a President who once told Americans we had to “eat our peas,” like a grouchy father scolding oppositional children. We have a slew of pundits on talk radio accusing the party in power of everything short of killing puppies. Whether it is true or not is irrelevant – the idea of “innocent until proven guilty” is gone. We have become a society governed by our passions, those passions fomented by those co-opting the message of well-meaning, passionate citizens, and twisting them to fit a very profitable narrative. Rather than listen to the better angels of our nature, we are now embracing our greatest demons, both past and present.
Our Founders were skeptical of the People governing directly, and I can see why. We are no longer a nation of individuals who have the greater good at heart. Ours is no longer a nation which asks what we can do for our country, as President Kennedy once called upon every American to do. Nor is it the nation which once saw morning dawning again, and President Reagan once declared. We aren’t even a nation which only has to fear fear itself as FDR once declared our only enemy to be. We are beyond a nation by the people, for the people, and we have allowed ourselves to become too involved in foreign entanglements. We are no longer a nation of laws, but of men and women. Ours is a people captivated by cults of personality, enthralled by fantasy, obsessed with scandal, and unable to move forward out of a desire for vengeance and bloodlust. We no longer forgive; we retaliate. We are near nihilists, but accept everything told by so-called “leaders” as gospel.
We can come back, if we want. We can focus on the good in our nation, if we would stop looking at each other with suspicion. We can end the hatred if we stop wondering how we can “get over” on each other. We can rebuild if we start focusing on rolling up our sleeves and working on repairs. We can stop the insanity if we realize that our greatest strength is the very thing which many regard as our greatest weakness – our differences, our seeming inability to agree. If our nation was to collectively awaken from its slumber and see just how badly we are being played for fools by both sides of the political aisle, the consequences would be as an earthquake destroying a major city. Anyone who wonders the veracity of this assessment need simply read this quote…
“A military man can scarcely pride himself on having ‘smitten a sleeping enemy’; it is more a matter of shame, simply, for the one smitten. I would rather you made your appraisal after seeing what the enemy does, since it is certain that, angered and outraged, he will soon launch a determined counterattack.”
That quote was not by any American, but by Admiral Yamamoto of Japan in 1942 as the war in the Pacific intensified. Three years later, Japan would lay in ruins, and America would have displayed what the collective will of a truly free people, properly directed, can do.
My hope is that my fear is only short-lived.