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By: Wayne Brown
I recently read a rant posted by a writer friend who discussed how we as Americans have become so entrenched in our belief structure politically that we are all but handcuffed from using our own common sense. She cited several examples of her own pointing out her views on environmental issues while at the same time claiming a conservative slant on politics. Her point was that our labels do not always serve us so well and many times we are prone to hide from the label for fear that it will cause us problems.
Looking back over her thoughts, I think she made some very good points. She also made me stop to think what I really believed and how important that was to me in the big picture of things today. Our country is probably more divided over politically-inspired issues that it has ever been other than maybe at beginning of the Civil War. There is a lot of pressure on people to decide where they stand and to support that stand once they take it. Remaining outside the fray in today’s world can only be a function of either isolation or sheer ignorance.
As I look at my own beliefs politically and culturally, I think I probably fit well into the slightly skewed bell-shaped distribution of the American population. That distribution is distributed fairly evenly between the left or liberal poll and the right or conservative poll with the moderates or self-described independents lining up somewhere along the mean of the distribution. This leaves America statistically slightly skewed to the right or conservative side. Amazingly that skew does not show up as commonly as one might think and thus we hear a lot of references to the thought processes of the “silent majority.”
For too long now, that so-called silent majority has remained a bit too silent hiding in the closet on some issues and holding back on others. That portion of the population which forms the skew to the right can and are easily swayed outside the polls of effect in many instances. Sometimes, the right candidates do not end up in the race and the voters drop out. Sometimes the voter feels like the day is lost and gives up on voting. Any number of things can come to light which can kill the small edge in the statistical distribution.
That said, where does it leave us as a country and as a people? Political affiliation and party line have been a tradition for many demographics of America over the entire time of the country’s existence. Family names pass the gauntlet from generation to generation to uphold the family’s political tradition. Personally, I grew up in a very democratically dominated southeast of the 1960’s. Most everyone I knew in those days were born democrats and voted the party ticket religiously. Today, as I look back on the south of my youth, I see just the opposite, most of those states that were once heavily democratic are now heavily conservative. Did the people change or did the politics change?
I think that you can say that it is a little of both. In my days in the south, agriculture was still pretty much the bread and butter of life there. The impact of FDR’s post depression efforts had saved the south though much suffering had been witnessed. Over time, especially in the latter part of the 20th century, manufacturing and jobs began to roll into cities and towns of the south. People moved from the farms into the towns and began to enjoy life from a different perspective. Their needs changed; their desires changed; and their world was affected by more and different things. So, we can conclude that people did change and those changes in turn caused a shift in the political climate of America.
I contend that there are certain landmarks in history which are connected by dots. Those landmarks are associated with change, significant and permanent change which shows up in the years that follow the timing of the event. If we looked at and plotted examples of those landmarks in our recent history, we could easily conclude that events such as the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Kennedy Assassination, the events of 9-11-2001, all had permanent and significant impact on the years following that event. There are others as we go back through time but I think you see the significance of what I am pointing to here.
Certainly there are other events of significance which dot history and are worthy of mention in any permanent record in history. The difference is that these events, no matter how big they seemed at the time, did not have any real long term effect on the behavior of people on a broad basis.
As an example, we can look at the period directly after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. America was, in those times, a rather simple place in many ways compared to the complexities of today. We were a people who had not yet experienced the rapid growth of technology driven by the race into outer space. We were a people with only one working parent, a one-car garage, and a modest home normally just large enough to cover the needs of the family occupying it. With the death of Kennedy came the years of the Vietnam Conflict and America’s deep involvement in it. What had started as a small “beatnik” movement of poetry readers in the coffeehouses of New York soon turned into a “love generation” of “hippies” obsessed with free love and drugs. Over time those who lived these experiences and survived became adults and brought their influence to bear on the politics and population of America. The era of the 1960’s dug the ditch of political division considerably deeper in this country than it had ever been before and it would remain so until present day.
Out of that era came a lot of “labels” like some of the one’s I mentioned above. With regard to war, there were the “hawks” and “doves” that split across the aisles to argue solutions in Vietnam. “War Monger” was a term readily used to describe anyone who supported the actions of the USA in Vietnam. Terms such as “love child”, flower child”, “pothead”, and “peacenik” were common to the vocabulary. It seemed that the untimely death of Kennedy signaled a new awareness in the world. It was an awareness very much of self and self-actualization. It was no longer a time when young people did what was expected of them. It was a time of revolt, not just in America, but in many areas of the world. The feelings of that time dripped down on to the fabric of this country like a bucket of paint tipped from the top of a ladder. There was little that it did not touch and change in the process; a change of permanence but not necessarily of progress and improvement.
Those of us living in America today who can look back on those times in our history see that line of change and the impact that it has had as those generations have past into adults and now are moving into senior citizenship status. We see the ties in environmentalism, animal rights, global peace, world hunger all woven into the fabric of that time since the death of John Kennedy. We also see it in our politics and the division in our mindsets. We see it in our stubbornness to hold our ground and not compromise. All of that goes back to a time when Americans became a bit more selfish and changed history forever.
Where does that leave us today? I think if I had to put one word on it from my personal perspective, I would call it “victimized”. Over time now, as a people, in all our selfishness, we have unconsciously done something of harm to ourselves. We have placed ourselves and our opinions first and foremost and shoved our place as Americans to secondary levels of priority. We stopped asking “What’s good for America?” and asked “What’s in it for us?” “What can we get out of this that will benefit us?” For all the waking up America did in the generations of the post 1960’s, we did more to move to the position of a selfish nation than any other accomplishment.
Going back to the earlier concept of labels. We now divide ourselves across the aisles between liberal and conservative ideas and fight to the death to prevail over each other. It is more important to us that our side wins; that our side is right, than it is to ask what is best for America in a given process or consideration. Being on the winning team provides us with more self-satisfaction than supporting a direction which makes sense for the overall health of our nation.
Having thought this through, I have come to the conclusion that my principles as a conservative take a backseat to my concern for my country. I believe that “patriotism” is defined simply as wanting what is right and good for our country so that not only we but generations after generation who come after us can see, feel, and touch all that was and is great about a place called America. I believe that “patriotism” is our last hope and our last bridge across that great void that now divides us politically. I believe that we as Americans must recognize that fact and adapt our behavior to fit it. We cannot depend on our politicians to lead us there for they, driven by their own selfish desires, have been responsible for much of the void that separates us today as a people.
Harry Truman had a plaque on his desk that read, “The buck stops here.” Truman paid for many of his own meals and expenses of his presidency because he did not want to burden the American people with it. He held the Office of President at a level of esteem that he did not set for himself. He knew the admiration of the American people was with the high office and not the man occupying it. On that basis, he too held the office at a level of respect and awe and was keenly aware of his responsibility to fill the requirements of the job the American people had given him. When his term was over and the new President was sworn in, Harry Truman, along with his wife Bess, quietly got into their car and drove home just like any other citizen of America. In Harry’s mind, the high office still remained, but Harry Truman was just another average Joe heading home to supper.
Much of that has been lost now in America. We have occasional glimpses of it at times but it never seems to last. It always seems to come back to the “me” aspect; to the power and the greed which particular people can and do glean from the high elective offices of America. Nixon attempted to use the power of the Presidency to cover his criminal tracks in a two-bit botched burglary, Clinton couldn’t keep his mind and hands off women long enough to keep them from tainting the high office. That list gets longer and far more populated when we move to the Senate or The House and look at the behavior there. And in the end, we are now in an era, when far too many Americans want to shrug their shoulders and say, “you are making too big a deal of this” after an elected official has tainted his high position. We have come to the time when our culture no longer has expectations that reach to the esteem Harry Truman might have assigned. That seems to be our “modern day heritage.”
We argue about birth certificates, about conspiracies, about education records, stains on blue dresses, off-shore bank accounts, paid prostitutes, and pay-offs by PAC’s and big unions. We argue among ourselves about the impact and value of that behavior in our society while acknowledging the presence of it. These are not things we should be arguing about. These are not things that should be acceptable to us as Americans. These are nothing more than political divisions and diversions created by our elected politicians and those hoping to replace them to draw dividing lines in our population. The poor despise the rich; the race card gets played at the mere mention of the fact; those who seek to make money off the naïve public hide behind the virtues of environmental activism, and the list goes on and on and politicians open up a new can of them every day in the hope that it will bring more voters to their side of the tent. We have finally come to a point where we are willing to kill each other to prove that we are right and standing on the winning side. In doing so, we have totally lost our sense of patriotism.
Until we come to an awareness of this fact, our ability to find solutions and compromises which will address the issues will not be at the forefront. Until we come to this awareness, we cannot even properly identify the problem because we have too many sitting in elected office more than willing to sit there and tell us what it really is. As a result, we no longer have to think, someone else has taken that burden off of us. All we need to know is the guy across the way is a “damn liberal” or a “redneck conservative” and our needs are filled. We don’t need their viewpoints. We don’t need their respect. We don’t need their opinion. Ah, but we do, for in the end we are but one nation which will surely vanish if we continue to live in a house so divided.
America is here because somewhere way back there some people of varying backgrounds came together and had a vision for the future, a vision which would emboldened liberty, equality, and justice for everyone protected by it. That nation was founded on the basis of Christian religious beliefs and formed with the idea that the “will of the people” would be served by the government necessary to the cause. In turn, those people swore an allegiance not only to the republic but to God and each other to support what was good and best for America. It is our duty and responsibility as patriots and citizens to see that the sworn allegiance is upheld not only for us but for those who come after us.
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