Once in this nation our leaders expressed the philosophy that when anyone anywhere in the world wasn’t free than no one anywhere in the world was free. When Americans have fought their wars those that the population has sustained at least in the twentieth century were those that people believed were being fought to protect the freedom and liberty of other people. World War I to secure Democracy “Over There”; World War II to defeat the scourge of Nazism, fascism and militarism; Korea, to save the peaceful people of South Korea from the Communist hordes to their north; and the Gulf War to free the people of Kuwait from the Iraqi madman Saddam Hussein. The 45 year struggle against Communism was supported by most Americans of differing political persuasions because of a common antipathy to the totalitarian nature of the “evil empire”.
But today it seems that burdened with the Great Recession; the challenges to our public education system, domestic violence and a culture war between those who approve of the societal changes of the past generation and those who don’t, Americans have retreated again into themselves. Not only do we seem to care little about what goes on in other countries in the world, we seem to care little about what goes on in other states and counties and even communities - other than our own. And, it can be argued that many people care little about what occurs even in their own neighborhood unless it directly affects them. People don’t care if the streets are kept clean unless the municipal street sweeper skips their road.
In Syria today a brutal fascist dictator, Al Assad, is terrorizing and massacring his own people (especially the 80% who do not belong to his religious and ethnic minority the Alawites). And, while Russia and China see this as a way to return to the geopolitical power politics of the Cold War era the western nations pontificate. In the 1990's it took a courageous American president, Clinton, to rally Europe to end the war in Bosnia but not until after the slaughter of thousands in Srebrenica. The ethnic cleansing in Rwanda was ignored. And while the west aided the rebels in Libya (whose democratic election has resulted in victory for moderates) all the Syrian rebels seem to be worth are words. They may win on their own and if they do we will see the self fulfilling prophecy of radical takeover of their revolution.
But it is not just in foreign affairs that this new isolationism rears its head. Here at home those without children of school age now listen to the yahoos who would have us undo and cripple the public school education system that helped build the great America of the second half of the twentieth century. And those who have no elderly relatives on Medicare or Social Security listen to the shouting of the nihilists who proclaim that there will be nothing left for them when it is their turn. The rich who are rich because the government of this nation is free and its economy is free complain that they pay too much in taxes although they pay the lowest portion of their income since World War II (ended 67 years ago). The millions of Americans who have some form of health insurance seem not to care about the 40 million who do not. Though that 40 million has access to health services and the rest of the population pay for that in higher premiums for their insurance they fall for the lies and distortions of those who claim that Obamacare, a centrist moderate proposal to get insurance in the hands of that 40 million, is socialized medicine.
Many Americans now see themselves as under siege from some imaginary radical left-wing cultural elite that seek to effeminize and corrupt the American culture by importing “European ideas”. Of course they don’t know what those ideas are and can’t explain them because they pay almost no attention to what goes on in Europe or any other continent. And if that weren’t enough their fear of the unknown has now sparked a resurgence of the McCarthyism of the 1950's in the efforts by Bachmann and other tea party radical right wing Republicans to demonize Muslim-Americans.
In the twentieth century America became the leader of the world -- by 1990 the only superpower and the symbol of liberty and justice for all. What are we now? We seem to have lost our way. We no longer seem committed to building a tolerant, multi cultural, middle-class nation of literate healthy young people whose parents and grandparents can live their “golden years" in financial security and not be a “burden” on their children. Instead we have become a nation of homophobes - unless of course you know a gay or lesbian person and then you support their right to choose their own lifestyle. We have become a nation of those who support unlimited rights to gun ownership not just rifles needed for hunting or guns for shooting at ranges. We have become intolerant of both the so-called pro-life and the denominated pro-choice positions on abortion - unless of course a family member or friend finds themselves with an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy. We have become a nation that believes that government is the problem and not one that saw the need for a transcontinental railroad, and airports for aviation, and an interstate highway system and so many programs sponsored by Presidents of both parties to help people achieve the American dream. (Our people, who don’t know their own history, forget that even the pioneers were able to go west because the federal government sold the land to settlers' dirt cheap.)
So what happens now in the twenty-first century? Do Americans go back to caring about others in their country and their world? Or, do we wait out the Great Recession and when our economy returns to better times we bemoan what we have let fall apart and try to renew and rebuild? Or, do we become just a parody of what we once were - like the Roman Empire in the 5th century or the Holy Roman Empire in the 18th (when it was neither Holy, Roman nor an Empire)?
At every time of crisis in our history since 1607 Americans have risen to the occasion and been guided as Lincoln put it by the “better angels of our nature”. So, it can be again! So, it must be again! And how ever many bumps in the road may cause us to land in a ditch we will pull this country out and up and become again that shining city on a hill that the English religious dissidents yearned for and Ronald Reagan resurrected as a national slogan.
27 July 2012