In Abraham Lincoln’s time America was known as “the last best hope of mankind”. Ronald Reagan resurrected the old Puritan mantra and referred to our country as “that shining city upon a hill’. But what are we today. Our politics is uncivil and negative, featuring the politics of personal destruction. Sick individuals shoot indiscriminately at students in schools and parishioners at church. We see the renewal of race based violence. Even our newest popular video game is called “Angry Birds”. America has become the world’s Angry Nation.
Why is the greatest economic and military power on the planet the Angry Nation. We have had other economic downturns and we recovered often by pulling together. Is this economic slump different because today’s Americans simply expect that the federal government will fix things easily and quickly? Are we an Angry Nation because the unemployment won’t go away? As in the 30's the government’s programs are opposed by conservative laissez-faire non-interventionist Republicans. But the language is meaner; the refusal to accept the validity of any portion of whatever the President proposes is to say the least irrational. During the New Deal era Republicans would have jumped at the chance to support an old proposal of theirs if embraced by FDR; now they attack their proposals as soon as Obama endorses them.
We are bogged down in the war in Afghanistan after finally getting extricated from Iraq. Surely there is anger about that. The Vietnam War was fought by draftees not volunteers and affected most families in America. The anger and demonstrations was understandable. Today very few are personally impacted by these wars; yet are they the reason for the Angry Nation?
We are the world’s leading nation - perhaps the only superpower (China isn’t there yet - soon). But, we can’t get others to do what we want them to do. Castro holds out in Cuba; Assad in Syria. Ben Laden is dead and Qadaffi deposed yet Iran and North Korea still pursue their peace threatening polities. Are we angry because we are not calling the shots in the world or are we angry because we don’t have a clear enemy? In the twentieth century we fought the ‘isms - monarchism, Nazism, fascism, militarism and communism -- and we won. Now we fight terrorism. But what is that and do we fight it everywhere? The nation seems to rally only against radical Islamism and on that point the population of the country is divided. America has never been comfortable fighting a foe with religious differences - perhaps because we are a composite of so many religions. Are we an angry nation because we are frustrated by this lack of a clear geographical and personal foreign enemy? (Personalism is important to Americans we fought the Kaiser, Hitler, Mussolini, Tojo and later Stalin and Brezhnev - couldn’t fight communism when it was personified by Gorbachev.)
Are we an Angry Nation because so many of the cultural changes in our society in the past fifty years were sharply contested and now the consensuses that ended those battles seem to be reopening with new clashes?. Americans don’t like to revisit settled political matters. They did with prohibition but that was within a dozen years. The matter of voting rights and racial equality was settled fifty years ago; women’s equality was settled almost forty years ago; Griswold v. Conn. (right to access to contraception) was a 1960's Supreme Court decision and Roe v. Wade was decided in the early 1970's. As the 21st century opened it seemed the only cultural matter still being battled was the right of gay individuals to live their lifestyle without government or other interference and with an equality with heterosexuals. And ironically this Angry Nation finds a majority of its population now accepting gay marriage.
There can be no denial that Americans are Angry. What I believe constitutes a minority of our population, represented by the Tea Party movement, is Angry at the liberal and progressive policies of the past one hundred years. They oppose the President vehemently, distort and oppose his foreign policy and want to reverse the equality decisions of the past half century and impose a conservative evangelical morality code upon Americans. I believe the majority of Americans are Angry that all this is being revisited again and that this minority is trying to impose their will on all. Whether the two groups are reversed in strength is not relevant because both remain Angry.
So how do we get past this? How does it become “morning in American again”? How do we regain our faith in the future and move progressively forward? When the British crown tired to impose its will by bayonet on the citizens of Boston, Americans became Angry. We fought and won a great war for independence. But it was not the Anger we became known for it was the principle of freedom for which men fought and died that became the symbol of America to the world. We should once again become a civil nation where everyone agrees to let others live their lives without interference as long as they do no harm to others. We should again practice a politics of consensus and compromise. We should lead the nations of the world not as a great military or economic power but as the great moral arbiter we were viewed as when we entered the two World Wars of the last century.
If our nation as a whole were to “chill” we could lead the world into a twenty -first century that unlike the last could be one of peace and prosperity.
31 March 2012