Turning Point for America

Whether our ancestors came to this continent by choice or in slavery, or were forcibly separated from their indigenous American roots, all of us are estranged from the lands and lives of our forbears.

With a strength rooted in the individualism of survivors, Americans have reconstructed human society on the basis of association, reciprocity, and principle: freedom of thought, economic independence, and a new sense of belonging that transcended social and religious differences.

Despite the hardships, European settlers formed communities and built a vibrant civil society that flourished through the first half of the 19th century.

However, our inquisitive nature and the inclination to range far and wide across the North American continent soon led to the society we know today – mobile, disconnected, alienated, and suspicious of differences.

Cut off from the cultural foundations that provided previous generations with the basis for social stability, personal identity, and moral integrity, our values have become less confident, our standards less clear.

Railways, highways, large-scale industries and shopping malls facilitated the unrestrained pursuit of economic productivity and material gain.  Big always seemed better and was certainly more profitable for the few.

We soon lost any sense of proportion, purpose, or belonging.  A society once anchored by small businesses and community cohesion soon fell apart, morphing into urban sprawl, broken families, and lost dreams.

What have we been thinking?

Our roots in community were lost, except in rural areas that found themselves increasingly on the defensive, both socially and economically.

For new arrivals the transition has always been rigorous.  Hostility toward immigrants was greatest between 1880 and 1910.

First the Irish, then the Polish and Italians were treated as threats to American “purity”.  And for people of color, especially blacks, the setbacks have never stopped coming.

New arrivals contributed economic strength and rich cultural diversity to the quality of American life.  Many of us know the stories of our grandparents and their successes, which only came with sheer determination.

Today we have a haunting awareness of the deterioration and decay of American society.

The loss of local economic strength and social cohesiveness has led to diminishing independence and self-sufficiency for virtually everyone.  The fears and suspicion that come with hard times has resurfaced.

The destruction of economic vitality that once provided us with the dignity of self-sufficiency, and the deterioration of the civil order we have depended on, have led many to look for something or someone to blame.

We now find ourselves at a turning point at which hard choices confront us.

The positive ideals that once gave us a feeling of dignity are partly veiled from memory.  The need to clarify our identity as a nation has become clear.

The genius of our Constitution has allowed America to grow and mature for 200 years.  Yet, we find ourselves in confusion today, without a vision for the future or a sense of community we can depend on.

Confronted with growing instability and uncertainty, I believe there is the only one place where we can gain control over our destiny.

This is in our local communities.

It is here that we can find safety and dependability in a social and economic crisis.  And it is here that minds can be influenced, thinking can change and the future can be debated rationally.

We are presented with a formidable task.  Without trustworthy neighbors and coherent communities, how are we to engage constructively with America as a whole – a people uprooted and disorganized in the wasteland of a broken society?

How will we build dependable relationships, a stable civil order, and a safe future for our children and grandchildren?

I do not voice this question as an intellectual exercise, but rather as a personal challenge to my readers as thinking, caring, self-respecting adults.

This is our turning point.  Do we have the will to rise above our differences to engage with our neighbors, to resolve local problems and meet shared needs?  It will not be easy.

I see no other way to influence one another or be cleansed of animosity and hatred – no other means than in the crucible of local community.

Do we have a choice?

I don’t think so.

Tom

Note to new readers:  Links to a project description, a draft introduction and sample chapters from the coming book may be found at the top of the homepage.

Watch for the next post on or about August 7, and please join the conversation.

Cooperation or Collapse?

And what about our differences?  The hostility and divisiveness that currently separates Americans is unquestionably the most intense since the Civil War.

Our differences are based on many things, among them ethical and religious values, social philosophy, electoral politics, and our understanding of history, as well as economic disparities and personal experiences with hardship.

Many at both extremes have distorted perceptions of the views and intentions of the other, and remain unwilling to seriously investigate actual differences.

These are dangerous times.

The vitality of the American Republic has always been energized by the clash of differing opinions.  The national character is rooted in the fertile engagement of divergent ideas that test and expand a rich national diversity.

Our opinions, values, perceptions all deserve respect; yet we disagree vehemently today on matters of fundamental importance.

In addition to these differences, America also faces a broad range of growing practical problems.  As material crises take hold, will the security of our families and communities be important enough to encourage cooperation and loyal dependability?

Effective problem-solving and meeting life-sustaining needs with our neighbors – many of whom we disagree with – may soon be essential.

Are we prepared to work shoulder-to-shoulder in our local communities for the sake of safety and relative comfort?  Can we be loyal to one another as neighbors – and as Americans?

The survival of the Republic will require virtues that Americans are no longer generally known for: moral responsibility, dependability, steadfast loyalty.

What gives?

Our greatest challenge will be learning to view problems and people – especially people who are different from us – in essentially ethical rather than political terms.

This is not about charity.  Civilization requires a level of civility that goes far beyond kindness and common decency.  If Americans are to turn the corner, it can only be with a responsible and inquiring attitude that is unfamiliar at present.

Genuine communication does not require compromising principles.

Indeed, opportunities for influencing others will proliferate when we work together, addressing urgent common needs.

Times of danger tend to open minds and alter perspective.  We begin to see with new eyes and to recognize the dynamics of cause and effect.

It is neither practical nor civilized to go to war with one another when our common interests depend on our ability to communicate effectively and engage in rational problem-solving.

What is most urgent is not that we agree on religion or politics, but that we seek dependable cooperation in the face of material threats.

Practical tools are needed to make acceptable decisions in small groups.  Skills will be required to ensure food security, to make consultative decisions and manage conflict, to organize projects and start small businesses.

We each can develop needed skills.

Under the present conditions of social disintegration, strident divisiveness, and dysfunctional institutions, I have encouraged Americans to turn aside from partisan politics temporarily to focus attention on the practical needs in our local communities.

I am not opposed to effecting change by traditional means.  As the crisis deepens, however, I suggest we will gain more immediate control over our lives through collaboration and community building.

And, dependable community is the ground of civilization.

Our values, principles, and ideals need a stable forum in which to be communicated, cultivated, and spread.  This will never happen by force.

The present crisis will be long and the challenges extremely difficult. We must prevail for the sake of our children and the future of America.  Failure would be catastrophic.

Ultimately we are confronted by a single simple question: Will we accept the destruction of civilized society, a rending of the fabric of the American Republic, and retreat into a state of siege?

Or, will we have the courage and the will to do the real work?

Tom

A note to readers:  An introduction to this project and several chapter drafts from the forthcoming book are available on this page.  Please watch for the next blog post on or about July 17.

American Crucible

The extraordinary challenges confronting the American people will mark a turning point, and a test of America’s character and place in history.

For more than two hundred years the United States has stood before the world as a beacon of hope, a source of creative imagination and ingenuity, and as a singular model of freedom, diversity, and vitality.

In the cauldron of crises it is easy to forget the unparalleled historic meaning of the United States, and the role it has played in the progress of an ever-advancing civilization.

Our confidence in the future is shaken by abandoned responsibility and collapsing institutions.

Economic well-being and the social coherence of the nation have been weakened.  The generosity of spirit for which Americans have long been known has faded.

This week I will step away from recent topics to revisit the central theme of this blog and forthcoming book.

I ask my fellow Americans to consider the danger in the present crisis – a threat to the survival of the United States as a constitutional republic.

The most basic underlying problems have not been caused by present or past leadership, but by structural change, by a weakened understanding of personal responsibility, and by a lack of constructive thinking.

Political leadership will not save us.  Hope lies in the hands of the American people and our readiness to rise to the occasion.

My question to you is this:  Will you align yourselves with a loyal core of American citizens, however diverse, who possess the will and the vision to assert our shared identity as a nation?

Small at first, we will grow.  This will take time, but increasing numbers will be attracted by the American spirit.

We have entered a great turning point that is neither partisan nor cultural, but rather social, ethical, and economic.  It has been brought on by greed, lack of foresight, and the abdication of moral responsibility over a long period of time.

My message is brief.  It will be short on analytical detail and will avoid blame.  There is more than enough blame to go around and we all know about it.

Rather, I will focus on the essentials of mind and attitude, of moral character, and of our relationships with one another that will be required to go forward.

The challenge will be to turn despair into courage and failure into honor and self-respect.

The book will acknowledge mistakes and the failure of vision and responsibility. I will consider the way we have gradually abandoned control over our lives.

However, I will do so not to fix blame, but for the purpose of understanding the steps required to build a stable future we can respect and believe in.

In the present fragile context, priority must go to ensuring the safety and well-being of our families and communities.  This will depend on trustworthiness — and teamwork among our neighbors.

There can be no freedom without trust.  And, we cannot begin to build trust or address the future without first securing stable local communities in which to resolve immediate problems, meet local needs, and learn to collaborate.

Is this really possible?

Yes, but only with great patience, a commitment to fairness, and a determination to pursue constructive, life-affirming solutions.

America has gained its vitality from our diversity and the creative engagement found in the clash of differing opinions.

I do not ask you to alter your views, but to listen to others with interest — to understand, influence, and debate.

Our differences must not be permitted to subvert the unity of purpose that defines this nation.

At a time of existential danger we are confronted with a stark choice.

Will we seek the ideal of collaboration made possible by the Constitution?  Will we 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 – and allow a great trust to vanish from history?

Tom

A note to regular readers:  My blog posts are adapted from a forthcoming book.  They appear both on this page and at facebook.com/freedomstruth.  You will find a project description here (linked above), as well as an introduction to the book and full drafts of several chapters.

Values in a Deepening Crisis

Once again I want to ask readers to consider the values and principles we should rely on during the long crisis ahead.  We want to survive tough times and come out the other side better than when we started.  And surely this means doing so with moral integrity and self-respect.

This is a crisis that has been a long time coming.  The many challenges we face are complex, fluid, and unpredictable.  At times it will feel like the ground is shifting beneath our feet.

Perspective is easily distorted in a crisis.  The horizon we depend on to stabilize our vision and judge progress may be veiled.  Decisions we are forced to make on the fly will depend on the attitudes, principles and courage we have already internalized in our mind and soul.

These are our most precious possessions.  There may be times when they are all we can count on.

We have entered a great turning point, a crucible in which the strength of the American identity will re-emerge in clearer focus.

I would like you to distinguish between moral values that guide our personal lives, and the broader principles that can guide a stumbling nation back to stability and take Americans forward into a future we can respect and believe in.

Certainly, these are closely related, but how do we prioritize in the interests of the nation?

Let’s keep some basic realities in mind as we do this.

First, at the present time our local communities are the only place where we have the freedom and the immediate opportunity to stabilize our lives.  Here we can seek safety and security by working together.

However, we can only succeed if we are willing to join forces despite our differences.

How do we feel about conflicting values?  What principles do we need to agree on to allow local collaboration and problem-solving?

Second, this nation was founded on the basis of principles that are represented by the Constitution and Bill of Rights.  These are not in question here.  One of those principles is freedom of religion.  Americans have the precious freedom to practice our own religion unhindered, but are discouraged from imposing our beliefs on one another.

There are some who view religious principles as limiting to their principles of personal freedom.  Others believe that true freedom is only possible when guided by the constraints of moral integrity taught by religion.

There also happen to be a number of religious concerns that have significant social implications.

One familiar example would be the importance of honesty, trustworthiness and good will in politics, as well as in personal and business relationships.

Another would be the termination of human life before physical birth.

Still another would be the enforced imposition of principles of social responsibility on those of libertarian inclination who have not agreed to such principles.

I could go on.  Many Americans do not believe that such questions have anything to do with religion despite their metaphysical qualities.

So, again, let’s distinguish between 1) those religious or philosophical values that can best ensure a good and responsible personal life, and 2) those broader principles necessary to knit the social and economic fabric of the United States back together.

And, let’s remember that the pluralistic tradition in American history and culture allows us to grow, change, and influence one another of our own free will rather than by force.

We can only attract interested consideration of our own views when we treat one another with dignity and respect.

The bottom line is both simple and challenging.  We know we will never agree on many things.  Americans have always been a contentious lot.  Yet, we have chosen on many occasions to unite, to defend the Constitution and the inclusive character of the nation when these have been threatened.

And so I ask:  What is required to allow us to pull together as a nation now, while yet allowing each to remain comfortable in his or her own views and beliefs?

I expect your comments to be wide ranging.  Please be direct and to the point, which will be helpful as my book progresses.

Tom

A note to regular readers:  I have returned from my travels and intend to post regularly.  Please remember to check in!  A project description and an introduction to the book are available on this page, as well as full drafts of several chapters.