Poor little rich Americans

As we slide into the holiday season with the aroma of fresh baked pies and warm, happy families surrounding us, it’s worth reflecting on the world around us and the lives we live.

The United States and each of the 50 states that make up this grand assemblage of territories we choose to call home exists as an experiment. Historically we have been powerful economically, militarily, in terms of industrial might, and by making the most of the creative impulses of an astoundingly diverse population. Perhaps more than any other place on earth, we have invited the dreamer, the ne’er do well, the oddball, and the downtrodden to come live among us.

While the road has been bumpy, deeply rutted, and occasionally washed out due to political storms packing powerful winds and lashing rain, we have persevered. At least we have so far. Whether we will continue to do so is increasingly in doubt.

Recently I have been fortunate enough to speak with elected leadership from both major parties. They fill seats at the local, regional, state, and federal levels of government, and after spending time with them, commiserating with them, and listening to their perspectives concerning the political environment we currently live in, the conclusion I come to is clear, disappointing, and completely avoidable.

As a people, we are on the verge of becoming completely dysfunctional and either incapable or unwilling to govern ourselves.

This is where we are currently. News outlets take sides and openly promote one policy or position over another. Rather than simply report the facts of an issue or the occurrences of the day, they’ve chosen to become participants in the process — to the detriment of their viewers and readers.

Politicians attack one another over party affiliation, rather than discussing issues of substance and methods of achieving mutually beneficial goals.

And perhaps our greatest failing today is our willingness to avoid thoughtful reflection on what the nature of the United States is, because our country is not simply a place. The United States of America has historically offered the promise of individual freedom in a world where even the concept of that dream was under attack.

There is a reason the United States has been a world leader in economic power, industrial production, technological innovation, and personal achievement for all these years. And that reason is not rooted in guarantees, safety nets, welfare programs, or social security payments. It was the promise of opportunity that urged our forefathers and mothers to come, to risk everything in an effort to make a better life for their progeny.

We have lost our way. If we hope to secure our individual freedoms and conduct our lives as we wish, whether that might be at the controls of an airplane cruising above the rolling hills below, at the wheel of a tractor in the fields, or in our own homes conducting our lives as we wish them to be — we will have to adopt a newfound respect for our neighbors, regardless of whether they agree with us or not.

It is with astounding gratification that I stand at the end of a long, ugly line in American history. As an American who has spent the bulk of his life in the south, I have lived what others have only read about. I’ve seen a cross burning in the yard of a terrified family. I have lived in places where segregation was enforced by law and by convention. I’ve eaten in restaurants where the only non-white faces were in the kitchen. And I’ve served as an elected official beside men and women who were on the opposite side of that experience during their younger years.

I grew up in an America where women’s career opportunities were severely limited, and victimization of them due to their gender was both common and largely unspoken. I’ve known gays and lesbians who have walked a more difficult road than I have, for no reason other than their preference in an aspect of life that will never affect me in any way.

We’re past much of that now. Our nation, our opinions, what we think of as “normal,” has changed dramatically over the course of my life. Those changes have been for the better, for the most part. Yet we still find it necessary to find something to fight over in order to justify a hatred for our neighbors who have done nothing more egregious than hold a dissenting opinion.

Allow me to make this observation: Suffering from poverty, disease, starvation, and an early death has been the historical norm for humans on our planet. Even today that is the short, painful future a large percentage of humans face. Yet Americans by and large find themselves sitting at a banquet table of unimaginable bounty, yet we complain vociferously because we perceive the person seated on the opposite side of the table to have a larger portion, while we must suffer the indignity of being given a dirty fork.

As we enter this holiday season I would urge all of us to look at the circumstances of our lives and recognize that even the most humble among us live better than 99% of all humans to have ever walked the face of the earth. Let us truly be thankful this year, for what we have, for what we’re given the opportunity to achieve, and for the gift of freedom that was handed down to us by those who came before and lived a much harder life than we will — unless we choose to burn down the village to make ourselves feel better, of course.

In that case, the end is indeed near — and it is entirely of our own choosing.

Comments

  1. says

    Throughout history, most super power type countries lasted about 300 years. We don’t have too much more to go. We are letting the tail (government) wag the dog (us the people). That really needs to be changed. We can get to letter writing to our representatives and maybe they will start listening. Of course, we could vote them out, but there does not seem to be much hope of that. People keep voting for the same people hoping for something different to happen.

    • says

      Glenn, Your so right on the 300 year life span for the US.
      The “actors” need to be changed – but we first need to change the script.
      This “play’ has had its run – we’re now playing to a more contemporary audience!

  2. SuperMom says

    Jamie, just as I finished reading this, I watched a spot on CNN directly from the people of the Phillipines.
    Americans seem determined to be ‘better’ in some ways than other people. While there is nothing wrong with the concept of constant improvements (in fact, if we do not move forward, we will die out), we often forget how far we have come in a very short 250 years. We did so by welcoming all those peoples considered ‘undesirable’ by other countries.
    And it’s worked. And worked very well, because we had the freedom of dissention.
    Unfortunately, many consider this freedom permission for bad behavior.

  3. Scott says

    A largely unbiased media in a republic is crucial as you state.
    But what to do?

    The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.
    Alexis de Tocqueville

  4. Kent Misegades says

    Jamie,

    I was born in 1957 and grew up in Kentucky and Alabama but first saw bigotry on display living in Detroit and Minneapolis. The South did not invent racism, but was a convenient scapegoat when it lost the War of Northern Aggression, which only recently has been accurately documented in the works from people like Burke Davis, Tom DiLorenzo and others. The United States is a plural construction, 50 Sovereign States. The root of many problems in our country can be seen in efforts of Statists to impose a one-size-fits all policy on all states. The aviation alphabets are doing the same with the insistence of a mythical drop-in replacement for leaded Avgas. We’re still waiting, watching the cost of Avgas climb and people leave aviation. Embrace free markets, get the government out of our lives and we might just have a chance.

  5. Garry Hojan says

    And the nation has turned it’s back on Gid, which I’m sure the that is just a coincidence? To make it a trifecta should I mention insurance, that was just for a smile. We are truly blessed, let those of us that believe pray that God continues to show his mercy and grace towards this great nation. May you all have a truly blessed Thankgiving

  6. Dave Hill says

    What we have lost is our moral compass. The compass pointed to an absolute truth. Today we live with GPS morality. The only truth is where you are at and it has nothing to do with any absolute truth.

  7. John says

    For all of our faults this is still the greatest country on earth, but we keep creating more faults. Citizens want more things given to them without working for them. This has to stop or poverty in this country will just get worse. When I was 16 I wanted to fly, so I went and got a part time job and paid for flying lessons. Getting my Private license and a college degree (yes, I paid my own way through college) allowed me to have a 23 year flying military career in the Navy and The Coast Guard and now a great job flying for Customs and Border Protection. Will Rodgers once said “90% of life is showing up, the last 10% is effort”. It seems to me more people need to show up and the effort will take care of itself.

  8. Dale F. Doelling says

    Yes, Mr. Beckett, we have lost our way but not for the reason that you have stated. We, the People, have simply subrogated our Constitutional rights because we spend too much time in front of a television and not nearly enough time corresponding with our elected representatives. We only need to look at the span of time that began after 9/11 to see what we have sacrificed in terms of our rights and liberties. The Patriot Act, The Department of Homeland Security, The Transportation Security Administration, the National Defense Authorization Act; these are just a few of the laws that have eradicated our freedoms and betrayed the US Constitution. Benjamin Franklin once said, ” They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither safety nor liberty”. But the one quote that I think is even more prescient is this: ” When the people find that they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic.”

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