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.

Security Begins at Home

If local communities are to serve as the foundation for reclaiming the American spirit and sense of purpose, we must learn how to make them strong, dependable, and resilient.

Many of us do not know our immediate neighbors, much less those around the corner or down the road.  If we want good people to depend on in a serious crisis, this has to change.

Good neighbors are earned.

Intractable problems can be resolved with access to a diversity of knowledge and skills — when we team up with others.  Food security is going to be a concern, and we need people we can trust when the banks close or the power goes out for days or weeks.

Whatever the details, most can see that we are hovering on the edge of extreme conditions.  A wide variety of impending crises are coming into view almost simultaneously.

I have shared my thinking with you about the essential role of local communities.  I have explained why I believe communities, and networks of communities, will become the platform Americans depend on to meet local needs and move forward with common purpose.

Community will be the only place in the extreme days ahead where we have the ability and ready-made opportunity to control our destiny.  We would do well to look around and assesses our circumstances.

Those of you who are naturally outgoing will find the following discussion simplistic.  But for others the challenge of reaching out to strangers and proposing a common endeavor will be more imposing.

It will take courage to accept responsibility for the future.

There are several aspects to consider: 1) getting acquainted with strangers, 2) identifying unmet needs in your neighborhood, 3) explaining our ideas effectively and motives honestly, and 4) organizing cooperation to address common practical needs.

Community-wide efforts can involve lots of things.  These might include local security, growing and preserving food, attracting youth to constructive pursuits, initiating small business enterprises, and troubleshooting technical problems that require creative thinking or specialized skills – such as electrical power, safe drinking water, and waste disposal.

Any of these possibilities can be placed on the table when we are getting acquainted.  Hearing a range of possible benefits for engaging in mutual assistance can jump-start resistant minds.

Unless we already know someone well, the first step will be getting acquainted and thinking together about improving our circumstances.  A warm, friendly exchange of simple ideas can be the basis for more substantive engagement down the road.

Try to begin by inviting people to share their feelings and views before you do.  This will provide you with helpful information, and it will make it easier for them to listen to you.  Do not pry or press.  If, however, you can get another person talking, you will then find them far more open to hearing from you.

Once new acquaintances begin to warm to you, invite them to think with you about ways the community can be improved.  Invite ideas and suggest some of your own. If you find an opening, share your hopes for the future.

It is best to downplay the more serious political or emotional issues until we have built a stronger positive connection.  If you meet unreceptive people, don’t push.  Be friendly and useful; stay in touch.

As relationships grow, watch for ways to demonstrate the practical benefits of a supportive community.

Soon we can begin to introduce people to each other.  Small social gatherings can get us better acquainted.  While remaining informal, we can introduce ideas by floating questions.  How can we assist one another?

What problems or unmet needs do we know of? Who has skills?  What skills would be we like to learn?

As we come to know one another better, we can begin to discuss our willingness to rise above our differences when needs are great or the stakes are high.

First we are human, then we are neighbors, and, finally, we are Americans who care.  As individuals we can be none of these things in isolation.

The future of the United States is of immense importance – but the foundations of our reality are at home.

Tom

A note to readers:  This blog posts every two weeks. Watch for the next post on or about March 14.

An introduction to the forthcoming book and several chapter drafts are posted on this site.  Please see especially Chapter One: American Crucible.

 

The Price of Freedom

Living or working with other people may be the most difficult thing we ever do.  Even a marriage can be hard work.  And yet, if we choose to rebuild the foundations of the American Republic this is our core mission.

To regain the free and fully engaged civil society of the American past, and renew the strength of America that sustains both vision and spirit, we must find common purpose.  Without dependable communities there can be no real safety or security.  And, without trust nothing is dependable.

These are prizes to be fought for and gained through consistent and determined effort.  Where do we start?  How can we navigate the inevitable bumps and bruises of working relationships in a time of crisis?

When we are working with someone who is emotionally mature and relatively open-minded it might not be hard to develop an understanding.  If, however, we need to work with someone who is anxious or has wounds from the past, (or is convinced they already know everything), then building a constructive relationship will take time and patience.

Rising above our differences is almost always possible, if we have the patience and will to persist.

There are two basic requirements.  The first is to get our motives straight – to have a positive attitude and clearly formed intentions.  The second is to gain practical interpersonal skills.  Both will be addressed in the coming book.

When in any potentially sensitive interpersonal relationship it is wise to look beyond superficial impressions.  We need to recognize the free personhood and integrity of other individuals, regardless of their experience or perceptions.

Relatively new acquaintances may not seem attractive at first, or might actually seem more attractive than they deserve.  We must try patiently to discover who they really are.

Each of us is a complex mystery.  We can only come to genuinely know one another if we have the generosity of spirit to inquire and take interest.  This takes time, but can be a rich and meaningful experience.

Stephen Covey has written that “every human has four endowments – self awareness, conscience, independent will and creative imagination. These give us the ultimate human freedom…, the power to choose, to respond, to change.”

If we seek to build trust, and if we believe in freedom, all of these endowments must be recognized and actualized.

Many of us are unaware of our own endowments, our own potential to grow and mature.  And the surest way to learn and grow is in the effort to build functional relationships.

Many people will not share our personal vision or sense of purpose.  They may not understand what we are inviting them to do, and may be distrustful until we prove ourselves.  We need to communicate clearly, making sure we are understood, and find ways to work together.

We cannot wait for others to take the lead.  The initiative is ours to take.  This is how we test our skills and put rubber to the road.

Elbert Hubbard said, “Responsibility is the price of freedom.”  And Gandhi said, “You must be the change you want to see in the world.”

Understanding comes through relationship, and the best way to build strong relationships is to team up to meet community needs.  It is in working together to address felt-needs and resolve practical problems that we really come to know one another.

Now, suppose we need to join forces with people who are very different from us.  Perhaps our politics are at odds, or someone has religious or philosophical views that we find strange or unpleasant.

How can we get along – and actually trust others in difficult or dangerous circumstances? We will touch on this in the next post.

Again, I believe the bottom line is this: In every matter our concern must be to preserve and deepen the level of trust, because we can expect to remain under the pressures of disrupted lives and deteriorating social conditions for a long time.

Americans are a resourceful people.  We will get through this and come out on the other side as better people.

Tom

Note to readers:  Please look for the next post on or about February 14.

The introduction and several chapter drafts from the forthcoming book are posted at this page; see above.  Please see especially Chapter One: American Crucible.

Where is the Baseline?

When we begin to think strategically about the future, there are a number of imposing challenges and baffling questions to be addressed.  I offer one here for your consideration.

Bigness has been a hallmark of American culture and has been said to reflect the spirit of the nation.  As an expression of raw power, massive engineering projects have fascinated Americans – and the rest of the world – for a long time.

Great ships, long bridges, tall buildings and world-changing inventions have transformed the material world throughout American history.  Many of us recall the awe we felt as we watched Neil Armstrong step onto the moon – live on television.

In recent decades we have watched huge banks and corporations grow ever larger, crushing the small businesses we used to favor on Main Street, USA and dispersing our jobs to distant places.

Eventually corporate America decided it did not need Americans at all.  Jobs were moved across the sea to places that had less interest in protecting the safety and comfort of working people.

We were told this would be good for us; that the cost of living would fall.  They said we could buy the things we need more cheaply – with the money we no longer have.

And then we became accustomed to “big-box stores” filled with cheapened goods manufactured somewhere far away by some other struggling people.

With the success of big business, the wealthy elite have become ever wealthier, and an ever-larger portion of personal wealth has been effectively removed from the consumer economy.

Bigness was supposed to be more efficient; it is not. It was supposed to improve the standard of living for ordinary Americans. It has done the opposite.

Large corporations have destroyed millions of small and medium-sized businesses, as well as the millions of decent jobs they once created.  Indeed, we now know that with very few exceptions large corporations are net destroyers of jobs.

In the last decade the American middle class, once the engine of American economic ascendancy, has in many ways ceased to exist.  With their role as “consumers” crippled by job losses and “hidden” inflation, many who were once in the middle class are now unable to envision a better future or even to afford a new mortgage.

You know whereof I speak.  A massive and unresponsive government dominates the economy, consuming the national wealth while producing nothing itself.  Huge impersonal corporations, for which honesty and responsibility serve no intrinsic purpose, show little concern for the consumer economy, much less the social and economic integrity of the nation.

As Americans we should be well-practiced at asserting our views, but we have allowed this situation to reach an extreme.  Indeed, we have fed it with our own rampant materialism and couch-potato lives.  And now it has morphed into a monster.

This is not a problem that can be legislated away.  How are we to turn it around?

Will economic catastrophe force a rational re-ordering of things?  Or will individual foresight, ingenuity, and determination forge a new economic course?  Americans should know how to “think-out-of-the-box.”

Whether we face the chaotic state of collapse, or the confusion and disorder of a long grinding depression, it is apparent that ordinary Americans must find a way to build the foundations for effective governance and a renewed economic order.

But – where do we start?  Here in the 21st century, where is the baseline?

I suggest that our local communities are the only place where we have the power and potential to take initiative, to make things happen.

I am not an experienced entrepreneur, but many of my readers are.  Many of you are inventive; most are smart.  It is time to put our creative imagination to work to figure this out.

Survival is not a new concept; neither is creating wealth from scratch.  These things are difficult and time-consuming, but they have been accomplished successfully over and over again for centuries.

This time is special.  We need community.

The unity needed for rebuilding begins with individual initiative – each making the effort to bring others along with us, teaching, serving, sharing knowledge, skills, and energy – building a future with a safe place for everyone.

Tom

A note to readers: This blog posts regularly; please watch for the next post on or about December 12.

Responsibility and Trust in America

Community is the seat of civilization. It is in our local communities that we engage with one another face-to-face and work shoulder-to-shoulder.  And, it is in responding to crises and meeting shared needs that we earn respect, learn patience and build trust.

With our neighbors we can overcome disorder in our own little corner of the world.  Trust and responsibility don’t just appear by good fortune.  They are formed in the trials of necessity and hardship.

Like a marriage, a genuine commitment to community forces us to mature as adult people – emotionally, intellectually, spiritually.  Perhaps this is why so many avoid full participation.

However, there are other reasons to live responsibly.  Just beyond the boundaries of family, community is that place where the reality of immediate needs must be addressed and resolved.

Americans have avoided personal responsibility for these aspects of civilized life for a long time.  We will continue to do so at our peril.

It was not always thus.  Prior to the American Revolution and for close to 100 years afterward Americans gravitated easily, even impulsively, toward decentralized local governance and an independent frame of mind.  We managed our own affairs in cooperation with our neighbors and expected regional autonomy as a natural condition.

Civil society flourished during America’s first century, a vibrant force that was documented admiringly by Alexis de Tocqueville in his two volume commentary, Democracy in America.  Americans created an immense variety of civic organizations to address every conceivable interest and social need.  Citizens did this on their own initiative, inspired by their sense of belonging and the spirit of the times.  There were few restrictions or constraints.

The need for community in America, both in spirit and as a practical matter, is as important today as it has ever been.  It is only in direct engagement with our neighbors, and in all spheres of problem-solving, that we will learn the skills of living and working productively with one another.

As Americans, we have been here before and we can do it again.

Some argue that the decentralist tradition of the American past represents an ideal to which we should aspire.  And this is, indeed, an attractive vision.  However, I think it should be apparent for all to see that there must be a balance struck between a nation of fully engaged local communities and a competent and trustworthy central government that respects and protects the primacy of local responsibility.

At the present time it is difficult to imagine a limited central government managed by mature adults who are prepared to protect both our freedoms and our security.  But, that is what we need.

Without law there can be no freedom.  And, there can be no freedom without a mature understanding of responsibility.  I believe that a valid vision of limited government for the American future can only come from a view firmly anchored in local communities.

Those who understand trust, moral responsibility, and constructive action – and who recognize the very high stakes involved – will build the foundations for the American renewal at home, with their neighbors.

Building unity within communities is a gradual process.  It depends on each of us to reach out across our differences, to form friendships that develop trust, to be supportive in times of trouble, and to influence the hearts and minds of all who care.

It will take time and patience, creative thinking and new skills, and we will do it because America is too important to lose.  The future of humankind depends on it.

Tom

Dear readers: Watch for the next post on or about November 28.   Please note that a project description and several sample chapters from the forthcoming book are linked on this page.