America has a terminal case of hubris. Yes, we were one of the first, if not the first, countries to guarantee freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, freedom to protest, as well as many other paradigm-shifting rights. It’s possible that without us, the outcome of World War II may not have been the same. We invented the American Dream, and all the Cadillac fins that came with it. And, most importantly, we have put forth great men and women like George Washington, Martin Luther King Jr., Susan B. Anthony, and Kim Kardashian.
But we’ve let it get to our head. As reports stream out, detailing our flaws, it’s hard to say, unequivocally, that we are still the greatest country on earth. Obviously, it was never a sure thing, but for over century, you could convince a pretty broad swath of people it was the truth.
What are we first in these days? We’re definitely the fattest. It won’t be too long before people are bedazzling their motorized scooters — in between tired gasps for air, of course. We currently have about 2.3 million people in prisons, making us number one on that list. Not to mention the fact that our educational systems are failing. I’ll spare you the stats (just watch the news once in a while), but suffice it to say we’ve got some work to do.
That’s not to say I don’t love my home country. Our higher education system still attracts citizens from all over the world, our innovation and research still advances fields from energy to medicine every year, and our basic rights are still inalienable. But what infuriates me is the unflinching hubris that nearly every one of our leaders possesses.
We still want to export the American Dream, yet the financial crisis caused by, in large part, you-know-who has put millions of people in dire financial straits. Our certainty that The American Way is the only way has served us really well in countries like Vietnam, Iraq, and the various Latin American countries where we’ve clandestinely interfered.
Recently, this hubris has infiltrated our domestic politics. Vitriolic attack ads, political theater, and politicizing tragic murders have become the norm. Both parties are guilty, and their political showmanship has led, in part, to the lowest congressional approval ratings ever.
Partisan politics and playing dirty are nothing new, but the current level of inaction and misplaced priorities is staggering. The Republican-controlled house has voted to repeal Obamacare 33 separate times. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has stated that “the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid claims he is sure Mitt Romney hasn’t paid income taxes in ten years, but refuses to reveal his sources. The name calling, while entertaining, is antiprogressive. There is zero trust between the parties, and compromise has become a dirty word.
How can today’s leaders be so bold as to name our founding fathers as their heroes? It’s simply dishonest of them. Washington, Adams, Madison, Jefferson, and the rest all believed in compromise. During the Constitutional Convention, when big states wanted population-based representation and little states wanted equal representation, what was the solution? A bicameral legislature! Both sides got what they wanted, although they had to give up some ground. Something tells me that Grover Norquist’s “no-tax pledge” wouldn’t have flown in 1789.
At the same time, you can’t completely blame the people we vote for, since we do vote for them. We are living in a time where both sides are moving farther and farther away from center. The religious right is more powerful than ever, and the Tea Party is at their beck and call. In response, Democrats have alienated conservatives through radical healthcare reform and favoring equality for women and the LGBT community. Mitt Romney hates 47% of the country. Obama thinks rural Americans “cling to guns or religion” when they get scared. Politics is a joke.
Today, we have a 24-hour news media just waiting to jump on banal minutiae like Paul Ryan’s workout plan and Obama’s fundraisers with Beyonce. They overanalyze every syllable of every political speech, and don’t allow politicians the same pseudo-privacy they used to have. Maybe we should be careful what we wish for. Maybe more accessibility turns Capitol Hill into Hollywood, and our representatives into ideological actors. Maybe we just need to stop watching what goes into the hot dogs and allow the sweet taste of mystery meat to permeate our taste buds. But let’s be honest, we’ve reached the point of no return. Even anarchy seems more realistic than a return to privacy in politics.
If my writing seems disillusioned, that’s because it is. I don’t know how to fix the problem, but maybe you do. I’ll leave you with a quote from 1838 by a young man named Abraham Lincoln, who had an astonishing amount of foresight:
“From whence shall we expect the approach of danger? Shall some trans-Atlantic military giant step the earth and crush us at a blow? Never. All the armies of Europe and Asia…could not by force take a drink from the Ohio River or make a track on the Blue Ridge in the trial of a thousand years. No, if destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of free men we will live forever or die by suicide.”
By: Andrew Eckhous
(Photo courtesy of sxc.hu)