America At The Crossroads–No Event Horizon, Yet

Not so long ago, I was upset with the State of Things and it was Andrew Malcolm the LA Times Blogger, my podcasting co-host and former NYT editor, who disabused me of the notion. Recalling the race riots of the late 60s and the angst around the Vietnam war, he convinced me that we ain’t nowhere near bad, yet. I’m inclined to believe him.

Politics, these days, is what politics in our Democracy has been a long time: pointed, shrill, symbolic and silly. One only needs to read Mark Twain, to know that average Americans have long held their leadership in tolerant contempt. We all just think what we are experiencing is the worst ever. Why wouldn’t we? History, especially in this self-centered, immediate-gratification age begins with us, well, “me”, right?

So this morning, my longtime online friend Brendan Loy decried the political environment. I suggest that you go read his whole post. He pretty fairly encapsulates the bulk of our intense Twitter back and forth argument. He says,”America is at something closer to an event horizon than a cross-roads“. Rather apocalyptic for a professed non-religious person.

A couple things occur to me as I’ve contemplated his anxiety and anger. I’m going to put my thoughts in a numbered format in no particular order of importance–it will just be easier when people disagree with me.

1. America faces an identity crisis: Are we going to be Europe-lite and recede into irrelevance ala Britain. Are we going to value, as I say, a social safety net over freedom? The two are inversely proportional. America, as it stands, wants both. They want a less bossy government. They also want the government to take care of them permanently. Americans are much like teenagers: all the fun, none of the responsibility! But the bill is about to be paid. The population statistics cannot support this current double-bind. The economics of it are failing. So the overriding tension in America is an identity-crisis. It is a crisis within each citizen. It is not resolved.

2. America faces a cultural crisis. The young people and the left side of our country seem to dislike America. This is supported in polling. They don’t like the culture. They don’t like the word “capitalism”. They like the word “progressive” and “socialism”. They view America as essentially bad. Of course, they’ve been told that America is bad, so it’s no wonder they see that perspective. Unlike during World War II, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, both resulting in the freeing of heretofore abused people, Hollywood has portrayed soldiers as merchants of death and destruction and evil instead of liberators of people. So the older WWII generation love America and see it as a force for good in the world. The young and left do not. In fact, they believe in a quasi-we-are-the-world, utopianism that elevates third world despots to the level of America. American exceptionalism? Oh, hell no! That would mean someone is better than another. But America is better. Objectively better. A culture cannot survive if it hates itself. And so there is tension. Remember, we now have a generation of kids who have received awards for participation. Every no-talent-ass-clown believes he’s as good as anyone else. Competition, capitalism, merit and excellence have been exchanged for participation, redistribution, self-esteem and trying. America didn’t win culturally by being communal but by freeing individual creativity. There is cultural tension against this very notion–against the notion of greatness itself.

3. America faces an institutional crisis. The church was undermined with the pedophile priest scandals. Science has been undermined with global warming, I mean cooling, I mean climate change. Academia has become a propaganda churning machine. The government writes more laws and our leaders seem more lawless. The press is not trusted as an unbiased forum for fact. The courts seem capricious. No one trusts any institutions anywhere.

4. America faces an economic crisis. In this, we are not alone. The world suffers with us. There is a lot less money going in than going out. We cannot print money forever. We simply can not do it. Eight million people (8 million!) people have lost jobs and they are not going to start working tomorrow. Not only that, but many Boomers face retirement and reality is dawning: money is running out. Not only that, but doctors willing to deal with Medicare/Medicaid, etc are running out. The jig is up all the way around. This is anxiety provoking.

5. America faces a moral crisis. I hesitate to write on this because it’s a can o’ worms. What I mean: Americans used to have a collective ethic that they shared–hard work, church, marriage, kids, home, etc. Life from one home to another at least appeared to be relatively the same. People married young. Had kids young. This had the result of forcing kids to grow up. Being a perpetual adolescent didn’t work so well when you had another mouth to feed. It also created social cohesion of sorts. Things have changed. People stay single longer, get married later. People may have kids or not. Now, there are positives and negatives to this, I don’t intend to oversimplify–only to note that social expectations, well, there aren’t any social expectations or no uniform expectations, anyway, which is my point. This causes anxiety, too. What is right and wrong? What is the best way to do something? This used to not be a question, right? My parents generation didn’t seemed to be plagued with this self-doubt. Fill-in-the-blank was just “the way it was”. Now, there is no “way.”

6. America faces an educational crisis. American education lacks an overarching historical context and cohesion. I believe this lack of understanding of history also contributes to our unease. What caused the Great Depression? How about the World Wars? How did Rome fall? What caused the French revolution? How could a civilized people support the rise of Hitler? We have a vague sense that things are bad, but how bad? And do we have any context to put our current crises into? Not really. Not only that, but Americans have been institutionalized from cradle to grave; systemized from day care to end of life care. Yes, it matters. Have you seen how children are forced to march through halls with their hands behind their backs? Of course, it’s for expedience sake, but with education so systematized, the deficits in learning are universal. Not only that, following the system is valued over critical thinking. Also, objective truth, established facts, are dismissed as “that’s your opinion”. In addition, fierce debate and being forced to defend a position seems to not be the way of education these days. The act of debating is itself stressful because children aren’t forced to defend their opinions. They are honored by sharing them. It makes for an intense interest in politesse but a lack of cogent thinking and overt hostility to having a thought challenged or corrected.

7. Technology amplifies every good and ill. Where the loud-mouthed jerk used to only annoy his family and neighbors at reunions and picnics, now he blogs and annoys everyone. Good news, fair news is also amplified. But the ignorant, arrogant, clueless, mouthy, amoral, mediocrity now has a platform. It can be annoying. Still, on the whole, the best rise to the top, and the arena of ideas is debated across the country–like Brendan and I did this morning. I don’t even know where he lives now. Tennessee? Colorado?

Anyway, this all reminds me of a scripture. Sorry agnostics reading this, but this scripture seems so apt. 2 Timothy 3:

1 But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. 2 For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, 4 treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these. 6 For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses, 7 always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. 8 Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men of depraved mind, rejected in regard to the faith. 9 But they will not make further progress; for their folly will be obvious to all, just as Jannes’s and Jambres’s folly was also.

There is no question that in these times we have more information, more knowledge, but less understanding and nearly no wisdom, it seems.

Discourse can be disrespectful and unfair. A general lack of kindness can be extended to our ideological adversaries. There seems to be no sense that “we’re all in this together.” Demonization passes for communication. Humor is really ridicule and meanness. Charity seems extended to no man.

Well, there is a crisis in America, more than one actually, and if it feels like war, it’s because it is. We are struggling for our very souls as a nation of free people. Who are we? What do we stand for? Who do we want to be? What do want for ourselves and for our children?

The first phase of a fight is ideological. And we’re in this phase. Ultimately, this is an individual struggle. People are having to reassess their notions of themselves. Do they believe they can take care of themselves? At what point does a person need, want, deserve a bailout?

I mean, these are painful questions. Shaming questions. America suffers generally because we’ve been indulgent individually. And our institutions have reflected the individual failure. We tolerated sin in our churches. We tolerated dishonesty in our halls of science. We tolerated propaganda in our schools of higher learning. We tolerated living beyond our means economically. We tolerated immaturity and selfishness in our relationships. We tolerated things because, like the Corinthians of Paul’s time, we thought it made us more righteous. We fell in love with our tolerance and we indulged our self-indulgence.

Each American stopped viewing himself as a responsible patriot and more like a co-dependent citizen. Everyone was drunk together.

Now, Americans are furious with bailouts here and there, a stagnant economy and the general State of Things. They are cutting back their lives. They’re making hard choices…well, most are. And still, it doesn’t look to be getting better. Meanwhile, the government, in contrast, spends like a meth-addled lottery winner. And, blaming the people while they’re at it.

So in this environment, people fight. Will a solution come, Brendan? I don’t know. Will America have to fully implode to reset the button? I doubt it will come to that. More likely, there will be internal struggle and strife as tough decisions are made out of necessity.

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