Last July 4th, I was optimistic about the future of America. Sure, we had to maintain the struggle to keep the promise of our forefathers, but it was worth the effort.
Today is the Fourth of July. Independence Day. It’s a good day to think about the promise of America in the minds and hearts of great men. And to question how we, ordinary people, have dealt with that promise. Many will be saddened that 231 years have passed and we have not yet accomplished the dream. Others will be heartened by the fact that some of us, indeed many of us, are still trying. Don’t give up. It’s a dream worth fighting for.
This year, I’m less sanguine. Not because the value of our Constitution is diminished, or because the struggle is less worthy, but because of my macro-view of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Today, our nation is faced with very basic problems that will consume our energies and focus. Our economy is in shambles. Wars continue, even raging worse now than before. Food and fuel have become a crushing burden, and the jobs that remain fail to maintain real wages even as unemployment. Foreclosure has left many in fear of losing their homes, whether they deserve them or not. All of these issues address basic human needs.
The 232nd* year should be one of great promise. We have a presidential campaign in full force, and yet neither party’s candidate has answers. Indeed, the campaign rhetoric, which is becoming increasingly clear as mere rhetoric to even the least aware Americans, has homogenized to the point that our one bright spot, the fact that a major political party will have a black American candidate for President, fails to inspire.
Barak Obama uses the word “change” as an empty mantra, while courting disaster by trying desperately not offend anyone by promoting anything resembling ideas. Political pundits tell us that he cannot win by ideological purity, and must abandon clarity of thought to make himself more appealing to the masses. John McCain, on the other hand, has shed his statesman-like independence to pull together the conservative base that gave rise to our current circumstances, but refuses to take responsibility for the disastrous consequences we now face. And the mass of Americans will not accept any political candidate who demands the one thing of them that they adamantly refuse to give: Thought.
Americans will not be deeply concerned about freedom in our 232nd year. They will be concerned about eating, jobs, gas and keeping a roof over their children’s heads. Abraham Maslow explains why higher order concerns take a back seat to basic needs. For most of its history, America did a superb job of feeding and housing its citizens. But in this flat world, where our dreams are counted by the price of a barrel of oil, we may have run out of American miracles.
Like every American, I have to hope that we have a few miracles left, because to do otherwise is to give up. Americans don’t give up. But my tolerance for the greedy, the vapid, the smug, the selfish and the angry has grown very short. And it wasn’t much to begin with.
It is politically expedient to appeal to the “common wisdom” of middle America, massaging the ego of the masses into believing that they are indeed “right” in their thinking. History informs otherwise, but that’s why George Santayana never won an election.
“Common wisdom” is an oxymoron. an Orwellian phrase designed to appease the masses into believing that they will overcome adversity based on simplistic assumptions and need not strain themselves to achieve success in accomplishing their goals. As times get tougher, resort to simplistic assumptions (and those who promote them) will flourish. Unfortunately, this is when we need to think harder and make more difficult choices to overcome adversity, first to fulfill our base needs and then to address our higher order concerns. If the former cannot be accomplished, we will not reach the latter.
So our 232nd year isn’t looking very promising. And I end with one of my favorite quotations:
There is no expedient to which a man will not resort to avoid the real labour of thinking.
-Sir Joshua Reynolds
* Mr. Bennett, of the Houston Bennetts, correctly notes that we have completed our 232nd year, and are entering our 233rd, thus making my calculations suspect. I bow to his conclusion and beg your forgiveness.