What is truly at stake? Many new crises are confronting the American people, some just now appearing on the horizon. What are the dangers obscured by the present partisan conflict? The coming years will bring immense challenges, and the necessity for responsible citizenship will test and re-test the strength of this nation.
For two centuries the United States has stood before the world as a beacon of hope and an unparalleled model of political freedom, social diversity, and economic vitality. People everywhere have admired its dynamism and been attracted to the vision it represents.
In the midst of controversy, it can be easy to forget the unique stature of the United States and the role it has played and expected to play in the progress of an ever-advancing civilization.
Yet, our confidence in its’ social coherence, its’ economic well-being and generosity of spirit has faltered. Something has changed. We all know this, but we have widely differing views about what has happened, when and why.
Despite our differences, many Americans share the feeling that the country has strayed from traditional principles we hold dear.
Do we possess the vision and resolve to build a future based on moral responsibility, core values and ultimate meaning? And, how would this be possible?
Can we step back from recent events—and years of sequential financial crises—to seriously address this question?
Is it terribly surprising that our national preoccupation with self-indulgence has led from self-respect to degradation? This did not happen overnight.
The economic well-being of working and middle-class Americans has been badly damaged. Did we understand what was happening? It is easy for mindless materialism and thoughtless disregard for consequences to place the future in jeopardy.
The fragmented way we perceive the world may have origins in the incoherence of mass media. But, what of our lack of attention, and our insatiable taste for frivolous entertainment?
We are challenged by vast social, economic and technological complexity. It’s difficult to see the whole picture, but are we thinking?
Whatever the causes of disarray, we can surely see that disrespect and disunity will not serve us well in reconstructing a stable, coherent, economically viable future.
What is to be done?
Are we willing to truly listen to one another, to think and understand? Are we prepared to hear about the experience behind our differences—the stories of our pain and the origins of our discontents?
There really is no other way to understand what is happening, or to find solutions to the complexity that confronts us, without inquisitive interest and caring.
And there is no other way to avoid the destructive violence of anarchy without full commitment to the structural order provided by the Constitution.
This is a severe choice because the consequences are severe.
We have entered a crucible of testing that will burn away the self-centered and sloppy thinking of the past to forge an American identity we can respect and believe in.
Americans deserve self-respect. But the way forward leads through a great testing.
If we fail to rise to our calling, the social violence generated by fear and failing institutions will incinerate our children’s future and turn a great vision to hopelessness and anguish.
Will we reconfirm the founding ideals and principles of these United States as the bedrock on which to build a free and ethical future?
Will we defend and protect two hundred years of commitment, hard work, and sacrifice by generations of Americans who have given their lives to this unprecedented vision?
Or, will we give way to the emotions of uncompromising partisanship, accept alienation or violence—and allow a great trust to shatter and vanish?
Make no mistake: we face a long crisis! Systems and services we have long depended on will fail in the coming years.
We will need to depend on the knowledge and skills of our neighbors—whatever their background or the color of their skin—to resolve local problems and meet shared needs.
In the coming sequence of crises safety will only be secured with authentic interpersonal relationships. And the time to act is now.
You may watch for the next post on or about March 2.
A note to new readers: A project description, an introduction to the coming book, and several completed chapters are available on the homepage.