The vision of America that came to life with the birth of the nation was historic. That vision, controversial as it then was, has been subverted today by a bitter divisiveness that disallows dialog and obstructs decision-making.
Our efforts to regain the integrity of our national identity and to build a future we can believe in, will call on Americans to navigate through currents of alienation, hostility, and misinformation.
Violence begets violence in a downward spiral, verbal or otherwise. Words can ignite uncontrollable fires. And, dishonest or self-serving actions can do the same. Destructiveness can take many forms.
Arguably, the United States has been headed for trouble for decades. But, in the last quarter century social and economic conditions have reached dysfunctional extremes of miscommunication, irresponsibility, and violence.
When the banking system nearly collapsed in 2008, the United States hovered on the edge of material catastrophe. Americans discovered that failures of responsibility, foresight, and common sense involved the very people and institutions we depended on.
We were stunned by the foolishness that came to light in places where we are most vulnerable.
It was a startling discovery: A cavalier disregard for the interests of both citizens and nation by institutions we had previously regarded as models of dependability.
In retrospect, however, we can see that the crisis had been a long time coming – that it continues today, that nothing has been fixed, and that it reveals far more than foolishness.
The disarray is surely the consequence of something deeper and more basic than financial incompetence.
National leadership has stained itself. Confidence was compromised, trust destroyed, first in politics, then among institutions and interests that have associated too closely with politics.
We have seen immoral and deeply hurtful actions committed by religious leaders and clergy, the supposed exemplars of integrity.
Where will it stop? In addition to the material damage done to our lives, the rampant failure of responsibility appearing at the core of our society is degrading and demoralizing.
There is nothing more destructive than distrust. Indeed, it strikes at the foundations of civilization.
Times of peril require that we avoid contributing to inflamed passions, however offended we may be. Hurled accusations and insults make it impossible for others to listen and hear reason.
The trouble with blame is, first, that it tends to be indiscriminate. It blinds us to the complexity of circumstances, and to the plural identities of those who disagree with us – or who may have just made some very bad mistakes.
We often fail to see that we share certain values and commitments with those who anger us.
Secondly, blaming blinds us to looming perils that are the fault of no one. A fierce storm has come upon us. We need each other for the sake of our local communities.
A storm of this magnitude will alter everyone’s perspective. The time is coming when we will need to reassess, to adjust, and to seek safety in collaboration.
We must resist fear and its passions, and learn to work with those around us. We will build from there.
Some of you have expressed serious doubts that this is possible.
I never said it would be easy; I said we have no choice.
If we are unable to confront crises shoulder-to-shoulder as loyal Americans, freedom will be lost in the chaos of the deepening storm.
This will require patience and learned skills. We must try to see the end in the beginning – the vision of a renewed society where respectfulness, fairness, and moral responsibility prevail.
Both individual freedom and community coherence depend on this.
It is a purpose that might just be worth our learning to get along, even for the most doubtful among us.
Local communities are the one place where we can be assured of having the freedom and ability to make this happen.
Steadfast determination and the American generosity of spirit are among the virtues that will be called upon again and again in the coming days.
The future will inflict tests upon us whether or not we respond with dignity and compassion – whether or not we take our rightful place at the forward edge of history.
A note to readers: Please watch for the next post on or about December 31. New readers can find a project description, a draft introduction to the coming book, and drafts of several early chapters at the top of the home page.