July 4, 2011 – An American Vision?

My wife and I are watching the movie “Dave” with my kids. She’s really into “themes” on holidays , so we decided to watch a patriotic movie and that one was sweet.  As we watched, I wanted to explain why America was so great, why they should be proud of it, and proud to be citizens here.

I know I pick on the country in these pages often, complaining about this and that, but I remember when it wasn’t this way. I believe it’s all done out of love, wanting the country to be the best country it can be. I want us to live up to the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Bill of Rights. I want us to live up to The Dream of Martin Luther King, the united vision that Lincoln saw, the future that JFK led us to, the sense of morality of our Pilgrim forefathers had, the humility that Washington had when he took office, the sense of limits and peace that Bob Dylan talked about in Blowing In The Wind. I want the feeling of hope (yes, hope, in all its audacity) that I felt on the night President Obama was elected. Mostly, I want the feeling I had as a kid – that democracy wasn’t a spectator sport, that we should – and could do something that was right and good, we could love each other in peace using that constitution – because this was America, after all.

Today, I’m just depressed – some because the government is stuck, some because there’s such a huge gap between rich and poor, some because corporations and wealthy-beyond-belief people seem to run the country despite elections, some because there have been two large oil spills destroying our economy in the past few years and our government seems bent on being better to the oil companies than it is to its people. It’s hard to know where to start in dealing with these problems.  I think we need election reform, I think we need a fair taxation system, I think that elected officials can’t represent parties first and their electorate second. I want somebody in Washington to talk about we can and should do to straighten out the mess we’re in. Then I want them to do it. But if it doesn’t take everybody into account, including people who can’t vote, and have no power, I don’t want it. I want the world to make sense again.  Right now, at this instant, July 4th, 2011, we’re nowhere near that.

So what do I tell my daughters, what do I say makes us The Greatest Nation on Earth? Is it our wealth? No. That’s getting worse for many. Is it our educational opportunities? No. They’re getting more expensive while teachers are being laid off meaning less individual attention. Is it that we can –if we work really hard – afford a house and a car and raise children?  I know plenty of people that can’t afford any of that and they work plenty hard. Is it our knowledge base and our scientists? Mostly, they’re making new drugs for Big Pharma, though Apple and Microsoft and Google give me hope. Is it our morals and sense of dignity? It’s not we’re aiming for anymore.  We play and sell games to our children whose goal is to rob and kill, run over prostitutes, and gun down drug dealers. Then there’s Twitter and Mr. Weiner, Jerry Springer and pro wrestling.

So, what’s left? There are only two things and I hope we don’t destroy the second one any time soon. At a time like this, when our democracy doesn’t seem to be working for the civil defense or for liberty or for The People, the only things left are our people and our land.

We have the basic building blocks of a great country, even if nobody’s using them wisely right now.  The idea that my daughters could be President, that my church’s members have morals, that people try to do the right thing every day in their families and in their communities, that friends are teachers, and therapists, and artists, people who help the handicapped, people who are spiritual, people who help others fix their cars at a cheap rate or no cost, people who help their neighbors after tornadoes hit – even though they don’t have to, and even though they won’t get anything out of it, speaks volumes about our God-given human resources.  A system can’t survive without resources, and among humans, we’ve got them. There is beauty and good in nearly everyone I know, even if it doesn’t look like it now. Even the most scarred people I see want to get better – want to love their children and spouses and partners. The drive is there. But we’ve got to see it and we’ve got to use it wisely, instead of throwing bombs at it or drugs and violence and fear at it. Let’s stop putting our most precious resources in harm’s way.

After that is the other God-given building block – our earth. Our seashores and our rivers, our deserts and forests and farmland and the animals that live there feed us, clothe us, meet our basic needs.  We have a huge country, the likes of which most of the world can’t conceive of. It takes days, not hours, to drive across our nation. The stuff out there is incredible and we don’t understand how it all works or why it does what it does. But we’re sloppy with it – using it and abusing it until there’s nothing left of it to farm or raise children or animals – or a democracy – on.

I bet, between human kindness and natural resources, we could do something with this country that will make us all proud of who we are – not with jingoism or reality as it’s portrayed on TV – but with real beauty that lets us sleep at night, that lets us look in the mirror at ourselves and know we’ve done something good for the world, for each other, for nature or all of the above.  We have the stuff. We even have the right stuff. If we use it right, by next year we can have a country we can all be proud of. That would be America.




8 thoughts on “July 4, 2011 – An American Vision?

  1. About two years ago, I was talking with a guy who was instructing a course at my company. He had grown up and spent most of his live in Nigeria. He was very smart and well educated (including a Masters from Oxford, I think) and had been living in the US for maybe 5 – 8 years.

    I don’t remember how it came up, but I asked him what it was about the USA that made it so desirable and intriguing for the rest of the world. He explained that the USA was a land of freedom and opportunity – essentially that the USA had the best legal framework for a person to come in and work hard and become successful, more so than any European country or any other nation in the world. As many times as I’d heard the slogan that the USA was the land of opportunity, the rest of the conversation really changed my perspective on this country and what makes it great. Land of opportunity – that’s what makes this country great for me and proud to live here.

    • Bob: I was pretty depressed when I wrote that piece, but tried to draw on the best images I could remember. I was hoping fir comments like yours in rebuttal.

      At the same time, my one big excursion overseas — to Prague — taught me the opposite. While I was there, no one talked about the US one way or the other. And statistically, I learned that there are numerous places where we are NOT number one — some I listed in the article. As a good American, I would never have believed it until I saw it. We’re not number one and we’re not the center of the universe, but you’re right… We might offer the best CHANCE for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness… Or not.



  2. I didn’t say chance, I said opportunity. It’s too bad you have so little faith in your fellow humans that the only way people can survive without relying on others is luck (like hitting the lottery). It is a typical liberal attitude to believe that humans are too stupid and lazy, so the government has to swing in and save the day. And when a government implements policies based on the assumption that the people are too stupid and lazy, we get what we have now – an economy that works SO hard to support the lazy and stupid (who are not really lazy or stupid, but have become convinced that they are sop they act like it) that it’s dragged itself into unrecoverable debt.

    No wonder you are depressed, with that kind of vision of America. May I suggest that you have faith in your fellow humanity, and believe that if people use their God-given brains and talents, instead of trying to find excuses why they shouldn’t, that this is a great country where we can all thrive.

    • I have great faith in my fellow human beings and I push them to be their best selves. I’m not sure I get the difference between “opportunity” and “chance” as I meant the same thing by them. Could you define “opportunity” for me as you mean it?

      I’m not suggesting that the lottery or the casino is any thing to base your future on. It’s not, but there are plenty of people that do.They think that there’s a better chance ti win the lottery than the likelihood they’ll ever make enough money to make ends meet. The problem there is that they don’t have better odds and they lose what little money they have. For some people, it’s bad decision making/dumb values, Others have given up on a world that makes no sense them. Some of that I blame on TV, etc. Just because you don’t live a “lifestyle of the rich and famous” or like your favorite TV star, doesn’t mean you have a bad life at all. But a lot of people have ridiculous expectations of what they “deserve”. That’s another post for another time…

      • JMB: “I have great faith in my fellow human beings and I push them to be their best selves. I’m not sure I get the difference between “opportunity” and “chance” as I meant the same thing by them. Could you define “opportunity” for me as you mean it?”

        By “chance”, I mean that there are some things out of our control altogether. The country where we are born, the color of our skin, etc.

        By opportunity, I mean that someone takes whatever cards they are delt and makes the most. This almost always requires hard work – and for some people harder work than others (depending on the barriers that have to be overcome) – but I have seen virtually every type of person (who put their mind to it) overcome their personal obstacles and succeed. I have also seen people who *could* be successful come to just rely on the government and society for their survival.

      • Bob: As long as we acknowledge that there ARE barriers, that some people have either too many barriers or too short a life-span, and that is BOTH of OUR EXPERIENCES only, I agree with everything you said.

  3. Also, out of curiosity, why do you care if we are “number one”? As long as we are a great country, who cares if we are number one?

    • Bob: I was raised to believe “we’re number one!” — among other reasons, that supposedly is why others come here. If better ideas are out there and we’re not using them, — especially because we’re in denial that we’re NOT number 1 in some area or another, that’s a problem. It’s almost a textbook definition of “dysfunctional” because it simply doesn’t work as well.

      Anyway, I don’t like basing my beliefs in lies.

      Peace, John

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