This has been a uniquely disturbing US Presidential election. As I write this post, only 3 weeks are left until Election Day, November 7th. Both Republicans, Democrats and Independents are weary of this most uncivil and unseemly campaign; unprecedented in modern American history.
Yes there were elections in the 1820’s and 30’s so toxic and mean that the shame and false accusations heaped upon Andrew Jackson’s wife caused her to die of a broken heart. It was a “no holds barred” type of politics in the first 50 years of our Republic and I am very saddened to see us descend to this level again in the supposedly enlightened 21st Century.
Whatever your politics or preferences I am sure that you would agree that our democracy cannot thrive in an atmosphere of distrust, thuggery and mean spirited hate speech. We heard just yesterday a candidate sowing the seeds of conspiracy and illegitimacy of our democratic process. Unchecked, this could destroy our very soul and nation. This is the atmosphere that destroyed the world’s first democracy, Athens.
What has happened to “morning in America”? Where have “hope and change” gone, just 8 years after thrilling and empowering much of the nation?
Every problem has a spiritual solution and this time of nastiness and recrimination can be solved only by good will; brother and sisterhood and a large dose of empathy. There also must be a few structural changes in our Election process. (Parties must nominate as they did formerly, then the people elect) Lest you think I am suggesting that we all hold hands and sing Kum Ba Ya around the campfire I would say that “it wouldn’t hurt” but it is not the medicine that our body politic and our national consciousness needs.
America has lost faith in its own mythology. A people’s myths are the bedrock of their culture. We sometimes think of a myth as something false. That is often untrue. A myth is a long held cultural tradition, usually based on truth. Myths are the ideals upon which a nation is built.
What are America’s basic myths and why have so many forsaken them in the last decade?
The central idea of America is the American Dream: This is the heart and soul of America. If The Dream dies our nation dies a slow death from the inside out. However the American Dream is not the American Promise.
Nothing is promised in a free society but equal protection of the laws and due process. The American Dream simply means that anyone from anywhere is free to thrive or fail to the limits of their talent, hard work and character. We are now all measured primarily by our talent, drive, character and the fruits of our labor.
There are no longer blue bloods, no privileged class, racial barriers and no nobility or royalty. Every one of us, if we have the will and the talent and the guts, can become a Warren Buffet or a Colin Powell.
We can all, if we have the athleticism and put in the years of hard work, become a super star athlete no matter if we came from Beverly Hills or South Central LA, from Coral Gables or Liberty City.
Somehow the American Dream has become in the minds of many the American Guarantee. Nothing is guaranteed in life, here or anywhere else. To achieve the American dream you must have a thirst for it, a hunger for it that cannot be satisfied until it is achieved. You have to sacrifice, persevere when the dark hours come and never, never give up. Most importantly, you have to make wise choices every step of the way.
Particularly in America you must write the story of your life and produce the movie version with every thought, word and choice. You are solely responsible for the outcome.
What causes the American dream to go off the rails for so many? Many, many people kill their American Dream with a rebellious spirit. “I am sick and tired of school, no college for me!” Poor choices at an early age can blight a life.
In 21st Century America, unless you invent something magnificent, or write the great American Novel, you have just consigned yourself to a life in the working class, working long hours for an hourly wage. One bad decision not quickly corrected is all it takes to turn the American Dream into paradise lost.
But weren’t things easier in the 50’s?
Weren’t we the greatest nation in the world in the 40’s, 50’s and early 60’s? What happened? Wasn’t this the Golden Age of America? It seemed that way to some but only if you were straight, White and Gentile and preferably Protestant.
Jim Crow was in its heyday and religious and ethnic bigotry was a way of life. There were ethnic slurs for almost any nationality or ethnicity and they were used in daily conversation. Whole neighborhoods would move out if one person of color or unacceptable ethnicity moved in! Seems unreal today but that was the United States of my childhood. Not so golden for much of the population, was it?
What about those great jobs? The days of walking down the street of your industrial Mid-Western or New England town with nothing but a high school diploma and getting that high paid union job at the mill or factory, complete with fat pension and 100% health coverage, are long gone and they are not coming back.
This way of life was an aberration caused by World War 2. It never happened before and will not happen the same way again.
Immediately after the end of World War 2 the United States became the most powerful nation in the world and “the American Century” began. Why and how did this happen?
We emerged from the war with the homeland totally unscathed; our infrastructure, cities and industry emerged from the war as the most modern in the world. We became the industrial giant of the entire world.
Japan, Germany, France, Holland, Belgium, Italy, Russia and to a large extent the UK had been reduced to rubble by the war. We had by far the most powerful military in the world armed with the most terrible weapon ever developed. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were stark reminders of this.
Do you know that post War Great Britain, with their cities in ruins and their economy shattered, had very stringent rationing of fuel, food and clothes well into the 1950’s. At the same time Americans went on a buying spree unlike any in our history, buying appliances, automobiles and homes, all of which were unavailable during the War.
In 1946, ten million G.I.’s came home in a matter of months, sending women out of the factories and back to home and children. Rosie the Riveter may have built the planes, ships and weapons that won the war but she was fired in mass to make room for the men.
Women, once freed from the nursery and the kitchen by the critical need for workers during the war, now saw their freedom and independence abruptly ended and did not like it one bit. Thus the seeds of feminism were born and not a moment too soon!
My own Mother was one of the first to sign up for gender equality. She became one of the first females to become a licensed Real Estate Broker in the State of California. Seems strange today but real estate was virtually an all male profession prior to the 50’s.
This American monopoly of prosperity and power could not last. It was built on the misfortune of others.
When the rest of the world recovered and rebuilt their industries and infrastructure we began to have competition in industry and in trade. A rising tide does lift all boats and the perennially poor nations such as China, India, Malaysia, Korea and war torn Japan began to become industrial powerhouses and soon became First World nations, rather than recipients of our hand-outs.
Sometimes Americans tend to see the world as a zero sum game. If others advance and prosper; we sometimes feel diminished. We should be thrilled that the world is getting richer every day. We should give thanks to whatever Deity we honor that more and more children go to bed on a full stomach, go to school and have hope for a better life than ever before in human history!
We should celebrate the advances of our brothers and sisters around the globe, but today we envy them. Hope has been replaced by fear and anger.
Charity and love has been replaced in too many hearts with feelings of loss, helplessness and anger. Only a renewal of the Spirit can remove this stain on our national consciousness and return us to the big-hearted, kind and charitable people that once fed the world, healed the sick and led the way to hope and freedom.
Is there room only for The United States of America in the World Prosperity Club? Let’s spread the Gospel of Prosperity as ardently as we do the Gospel of Democracy?
Time to relight that Shining City on the Hill; time to rekindle the American Dream and then export it to the world.
Next post: My take on the solutions.
Be well, speak well and think well, until we are together again
Rev. Dore’ Jacques Patlian, Sarasota, Florida YouTube.com/revdore