Trouble in the American Crucible

It’s generally wise to judge people by how they behave in times of adversity.  If that is true, it is easy to get discouraged with what we see but we also need to look over the horizon.

Social mobility nationwide has stalled.  Folks that are born to wealth or poverty are more likely to stay there.  If “middle class” is defined as a family having reasonable expectation that their kids will live a better life than their parents, then the “middle class” is shrinking.  Normally readily accessible public institutions of quality like schools, healthcare, and safe neighborhoods are increasingly compartmentalized into society’s enclaves, frustrating new entrants.

No wonder getting people to work together and collaborate is so hard.

Democracy itself is undergoing a test.  Can the American brand of free elections actually deliver the integrity and high quality of government and leaders that we have come to expect? Many believe we have elected an unqualified buffoon of a salesman as our leader. Others believed that however well-educated and exemplary he or she might be, an African-American is patently unqualified to lead America. This raises other questions.

Should a Grand Plebiscite be the way to select national leaders?  Is the notion of separation of constitutional authority into three branches of government still relevant?  Can we actually rely on our democratically elected representatives to watch out for the national well-being when anonymous fortunes are committed to controlling the issues in Washington?

American citizens are increasingly less verbal, less socially conscious, and less visionary.  This is evidenced by the selection of national leadership that seems committed to transactional (quid pro quo) leadership, both on domestic and international levels.  Information is not only packaged and delivered by mass media, but more importantly, information delivery is now laced with opinion and bias that are accepted unquestioned by viewers.  The eras of pamphleteering, actual debating on issues, believable facts, and tackling moral imperatives seem past.

But maybe we need to look farther out, beyond the immediate fatigue and discouragement with the status quo. Historically, renaissance invariably follows a dark ages. That’s what happened in Europe after the Dark Ages when the Renaissance and age of enlightenment swept Western Civilization.

Beyond an arguably spineless congress and a chief executive who is challenged in his vision, honesty, and skill, some good things are happening. For the first time in many moons, an increasing number of Americans are beginning to realize that a leader’s attributes of character, courage, vision and honesty are not only missing, but they are more necessary than ever for the health of our American way of life.  We would never have noticed had we not entered this dark period.

While we get turned off with biased flacks and propagandists who pretend to report the news of the day, we would never have felt this revulsion had we not inhaled the stank air of disinformation overload.

And while we have viewed from afar the creeping threat of climate change, we wouldn’t be prepared to consider many lifestyle adjustments (as we are about to) that are important to preserve the life conditions on our planet were we not in ignorant political denial.

Stated simply, the next few years will present us with choices for the long-term future of our uniquely American society and maybe for the planet.  Those of us interested in a more collaborative, less adversarial, and increasingly pragmatic kind of politics can take heart. However daunting the current reality, it will launch a new renaissance. Learning to think “critically,” jointly assess the situation, agree on facts, and negotiate real solutions is a part of what is coming.

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