America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great. - Alexis de Tocqueville
I want to believe we are the good guys. I want to know, deep in my heart, that we reject the vile, the stupid, the disgusting. I want us to behave as a nation should behave - caring for those least amongst us like the poor, the disenfranchised, the vulnerable, with the same unceasing generosity we displayed at the end of World War 2 and the implementation of the Marshall Plan . We knew that the rest of the world would scoff at our naïveté and think us foolish to expect appreciation, but we did it anyway. Because we thought it was the right thing to do.
We are facing a true crisis in America. An existential crisis about our way of life, our national character, and the very existence of democracy. This entire election cycle, from its inception, has been completely toxic. Candidates have shown little respect for each other. They threaten each other, insult spouses, children, and take horrific swipes at each other. They have shown little respect for the citizens of this country and for our institutions, our civility, and our place in the world.
The U.S. has always seemed brash. I remember when I was working with the York Archaeological Trust one summer. I went to the bank with our weekly stipend to change some dollars into pounds. We were essentially paid volunteers and not paid a lot. A friend from the trust, ironically from York, Pennsylvania, was also in this bank, and as we were standing in line, we heard the harsh, strident tones of an American accent, arguing that the previous day's exchange rate had been better and demanding the bank honor it. Since there was a bit of a line, we kept hearing the angry American and her equally loud and obnoxious husband arguing with this poor bank teller about the rates. The more they spoke, the more British we became, so that by the time we were at the window with our familiar weekly teller waiting to exchange our dollars to pounds, we were speaking in upper crust drawls. With a glance at the bleating, loud, ugly Americans behind us, the teller winked and didn't betray us, and we slinked out of the bank without having to acknowledge we were American.
Recalling that incident makes me realize that there has always been a harsh, uncouth, unattractive section of our society. I don't mean physical appearance but unattractive souls that have now become elevated into the mainstream of our lives. The "isms" that used to be sidelined in the shadows - racism, misogyny, ignorance, and staggering anti-intellectualism - are now blatantly in the light for all to see. They are a result of an education system that is failing, a vocal minority that has failed to learn critical thinking skills, tolerance, acceptance, or even the golden rule. These people have felt voiceless and powerless. These are frightened, angry people making bad choices and more importantly forgetting that they are, in fact, Americans - you know, the good guys.
We are becoming uncivilized. Although Michelle Obama exhorted us to go high when others go low, that concept seems to elude everyone. We denigrate, we hound, we humiliate - all in the name of free speech. Our rampant isolationism from the rest of the world between the World Wars has now devolved into an even more insidious internal isolationism that promulgates hate, mistrust, and ignorance. Some still fighting - and losing - the Civil War will glom onto anyone who wants to return to the antebellum South, which they consider the good old days, for the good old boys.
Religions, as a rule, are myopic, declaring that they are the only way to believe. However, in this country, where the founding fathers were mostly deists, religion was never to hold sway over government. Nonetheless, over the years, doing a litmus test of faith, as opposed to an understanding of how government works, and the rights and privileges that we the people hold therein through our constitution, has become the deciding factor. How else can you explain the fear of the "other" propagated these past 15 years?
The slow decline of conservatism started when Robert Taft and his brand of conservative politics had a hissy when Eisenhower was nominated and the country 'liked Ike and his policies, It refocused the intellectually driven, conservative party that espoused smaller government, fiscal management and individualism, and deadheaded it right into what is now called the alt-right. Calmer voices were silenced, and the stage was set for people to preach from their bully pulpits a deeper, fundamentally flawed brand that forgot what American ideals really were.
The greatest generation saved the world. The founding fathers declared a revolution that promised 'life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness". We the people, in order to form a more perfect union, created a system of laws, of moral and ethical behaviors founded from the 17th century Enlightenment. Where has all the reason gone?
Alexis de Tocqueville warned us that "When the past no longer illuminates the future, the spirit walks in darkness." Have we so forgotten our glorious past that we've allowed ourselves to accept that incivility, misogyny, racism, bigotry, and all the other hates being spewed are the norm?
I want a return to the 'good old days' when politicians built consensus, and sought to improve the lives of our nation and the world. When we didn't denigrate, disparage and denounce, but built up, buoyed and believed in our country and our citizens.
Are we the good guys? I'd like to think so. I was raised on the notion that the U.S. eventually comes to the right decision and we make the right choices.
Let's find ourselves and become our best selves once again.
E Pluribus Unum