“The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.” – Alexis de Tocqueville
I also find that many of my friends are also keenly aware of America’s flaws (and, lately, not so much on the virtues).
We are not alone.
In recent polling, more than two-thirds of Americans said they were pessimistic about the future of their country.
In another survey, however, 86 percent said they were proud patriots who’d live no place else.
America is Flawed
It reminded me of something Sinclair Lewis said:
“Intellectually I know that America is no better than any other country; emotionally, I know she is better than every other country.”
Many of us have troubled hearts and many of us wonder if America can repair her faults.
I love a good philosophical discussion but, in the end, I am a solutions guy.
To my own fault, when asked, inevitably I have an opinion … a solution … an answer … for what I believe should be, and can be, done.
And that being said I am troubled.
I am not sure I have an answer.
I have a lover’s quarrel with the country today. And I don’t believe I am alone in this.
All americans are part of the American story, with all its greatness … and its flaws, and I feel responsible in some way … just as I sometimes feel helpless.
I do wonder what Tocqueville would think of America today.
Democracy in America was written when he was 29. Tocqueville’s work is amazing. His observations on the American legal and political system are astonishing in their perceptiveness and sophistication. His love of our Republic and the sense of the fact that the democratic system we were setting in place would insure a sense of equality among its citizens make for an enlightening read … even today.
But I wonder what he would think with all the recent studies reporting that the United States is now one of the most unequal of societies within Western nations.
And that troubles me.
I do know this.
It is useless for our elected political leaders to say they are doing their best.
They have to do what is necessary.
And it troubles me that they haven’t.
I love this country … flaws and all. And, once again, I don’t believe I am alone in this.
I believe the average person, while hating what is happening absolutely does not hate America … and while worrying … wants it to be right.
We may obsess about certain things & issues and certainly judge them as bad or flawed.
But the reality is they simply are what they are … aspects of what makes America … well … America.
And it has always been that way.
Yeah … America’s flaws are subjective and based on interpretations, perspectives and focus but mostly by frame of reference.
Maturity & Sense of Entitlement
Here is where I am probably going to get in trouble.
Because of two things I am going to say. Maturity. I am not sure America is dealing with the issues with the same sense of maturity a country who has maybe dealt with 100′s of years of turmoil. Next. Sense of Entitlement. I mean too often the discussions come down to “what we had” mentality versus a “what we need” mentality. There is an aspect of ‘entitlement’ which skews a rational perspective on what to do and where to go from here.
Because regardless of how philosophical you get about this situation … most people know something should be done … and CAN be done.
But (big but).
Every time I get into this discussion it gets mired down in a “me” versus “we” discussion.
I call it “kitchen table economics.” And the kitchen table, one could argue, is skewed by the reality of the individual economics but I would argue it is skewed by ‘entitlement economics.’
By that I mean people solely focused on what is best for their kitchen table … and not what would be best for America’s kitchen table.
Tocqueville said in the introduction to Democracy in America that “equality of conditions” was what set the United States apart from Europe. His vision of the United States was an open society where democratic principles of equality could flourish peacefully in harmony with mores.
Once again … I wonder what Alexis would think of America today.
A recent report from the Pew Charitable Trust’s Project on Economic Mobility confirms what previous studies showed: if you’re born into the underclass, you’re likely to die there … stuck in your situation. Similarly, if you’re born to highly-educated parents with a higher than average income and a nice house you are more likely to be that way and your grandchildren probably won’t have to sweat the details.
American income inequality is becoming positively mind numbing with some of the richest US states having the largest populations of poor people.
In California, 22% live in poverty.
In Florida, it’s 20%.
The Pew study also shows that two thirds of all Americans think social inequality is more damaging to the nation than racism.
According to the Pew Research Centre, two thirds of Americans feel there is a strong conflict between the rich and the poor.
At least five recent studies prove that Americans now have less economic and social mobility than those in other English-speaking and western European countries.
But this where we get bogged down in the kitchen table discussion.
And this is a tough one to get unstuck from <I admit that>.
The Era of Indulgence
Mainly because it is a struggle of transitioning between two eras. The Futures Company (Yankelovich) suggested in their Darwinian Gale report that we are shifting from an Era of Indulgence to an Era of Consequences.
I would suggest people are not transitioning. They are stuck in Indulgence (figuratively not literally). At every kitchen table people are assessing based on the Era of Indulgence and seeking to make ends meet based on that criteria. Basically it is a “I worked hard for what I had <the indulgences> and I deserve it.”
It was an Era of Indulgence. Middle class America was permitted to indulge as it had never been able to indulge ever before. And middle class America was bigger size wise than ever before.
More people tasted indulgence … and it tasted good.
An era of consequences. America got fat. We need to go on a diet. Yeah. Talk about that at the kitchen table.
Diets have consequences. And, yeah, it sucks … but America’s kitchen table will benefit. Your own table will lose ‘indulgences’ <translation: some things you ‘had’ and maybe thought you earned>.
There are too many “reasons why” we are where we are … but that’s not the point … America’s strength has always been “repairing our own faults.”
And our elected officials won’t, and probably cannot, get us out of this.
(despite the fact I wish they would all remember this)
“This representative assembly should be in miniature an exact portrait of the people at large. It should think, feel, reason, and act like them.” — John Adams
If John were here today he would be admonishing the elected representative assembly … they are not a miniature exact portrait of the people at large.
But lets not bitch & moan over that fact … its wasted energy <for now>.
The truth is <it is kind of the obvious solution>, average people are the only ones who can lead our country out of the quagmire of special interests and party partisanship that is paralyzing it.
That’s because the average person brings a special quality that too many politicians do not have … a pragmatic desire to solve the problems, regardless of ideology, partisanship or career self-interest.
Most average people are far more interested in finding workable solutions than in adhering to a particular political ideology.
The average person almost always demonstrates a willingness to mix and match elements from differing political approaches – market-based, government-based, “conservative” or “liberal” – as long as the result is a solution that will work .
The average person does not ask “does this meet my political beliefs?’
The average person says “will this work?
But to make THIS work … to have America repair its faults … “the average person” needs to move away from kitchen table economics to America kitchen table economics mentality.
First step in getting America back on track?
Here is a thought from a very very smart man …
On july 4th 1992 former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, at the age of 83, said this in a speech:
We must dissent from the indifference. We must dissent from the apathy. We must dissent from the fear, the hatred and the mistrust. We must dissent from the poverty of vision and the absence of moral leadership. We must dissent because America can do better, because America has no choice but to do better.
Dissent from the indifference.
The average person is sure bitching a lot. And pointing fingers at elected officials. And it’s not getting us anywhere.
And, frankly, if we think it will get us somewhere than shame on us.
Repairing our faults begins at your own kitchen table.
We are no longer in an Era of Indulgence.
We are in an Era of Consequences.
Maybe if we all thought a little ‘smaller.’
Our retirement plans became smaller.
Our houses became smaller.
Our desires for “more” became smaller.
Maybe it would make it easier for America to reach some smaller goals.
And we could fix some big faults.
And do big things.
And we need to exhibit some bigger picture maturity. Let me explain using someone else’s words. I read this written by author Olen Steinhauer in one of his books:
“Americans are distinctive in the developed world. Your people still believe in Utopia. Maybe it’s because of your founding myth – the search for the perfect home. In the 21st century Americans still think it is possible to have a society in which a level of civility is constant where a perfect balance of control and freedom can be maintained. It’s quaint. Try a few hundred years of war and civil strife on your own land and see how much of your faith remains. Recent failures have shown us the flaws in our utopian dreams and it is a terrible thing to face. Traumatic when it happens. America typically lashes out when it happens. It snaps. There is an irrational side to it. Something wild. No one likes to be shown that their core beliefs are wrong particularly when those illusions fuel their happy dreams. So when America’s dreams have been bruised the nation comes out like an express train. God help anyone standing in it’s path.”
We are in a traumatic time. And, in a way, our american dreams have been bruised. And I am interested in including this thought because while we may all be staring at our bank statements and thinking that this is about our wallets … it is more about what resides in our hearts & souls. It has become personal.
And that makes ‘repairing our flaws’ even more difficult. It will take some maturity and less “lashing out.” And maybe remember that it IS possible to have a society in which a level of civility can resolve the issues AND maintain what Olen called ‘our Utopian belief.”
You know something? I don’t mind that he suggests America has a utopian belief. In fact … I kind of like it. It makes us distinctive in the developed world
And, frankly, we have to be what we are … and what got us to where we are today as a successful country.
Regardless. It is time to repair our faults.