The 4th of July marks the date that America declared independence from British tyranny in 1776, and then set about the task of creating the greatest country that the world has ever known. Perhaps that sounds a bit jingoistic to some, but it is what it is. I was fortunate enough to be born in America. Despite its flaws, this country educated me and even allowed me to serve in the armed forces. After I left the military, the GI Bill paid for my college education.
Watching the news or reading the paper today, you would get the impression that America is looking at some tough times. If you have the misfortune of looking at social media, people make it out like America is on the verge of a full-blown race war. I’m reminded of the quotation flashed on the screen in the movie “Killer Elite,” a Hollywood adaptation of the book “The Feathermen,” a controversial bit of fiction.
The world is in chaos. The economic crisis continues as an oil crisis looms. War rages everywhere. It is a time of revolution, assassination, and covert operations. It is 1980.
On the 4th of July of 2015, we are told that America is falling apart, we are in decline, torn apart by cultural wars. This is pretty much business as usual. America is always in decline according to the pundits, we are always on the verge of running out of oil, we are always faced with some insurmountable threat. This 4th of July, it may be worthwhile to take a step back and look at the big picture. America is faced with challenges, but things are not as bad as many might believe.
What America is really facing today is the growing pains of civilization. Right now, our thoughts and ideas are hardening and crystalizing, making us more like Europeans than early Americans. Information technology has made the spread of knowledge more horizontal, opening the floodgates for every man and every woman to make their voice heard, if on a small scale. But with that, technology has not provided John Q. Public with the analytical skills needed to know what information to process and which to discard.
Americans can be at once highly rational and highly irrational on certain emotionally charged subjects. We are easily caught up in distractions. Whatever a person’s political ideology is, getting wrapped up in debates about Confederate flags, transgender TV stars, or conspiracy theories about how Obama is a secret Muslim communist does nothing to actually resolve the myriad of political and social issues facing this country.
As one friend described it, the Internet is run on ‘likes’ and outrage. I recently read a book titled “Contagious,” which does a statistical breakdown of why people share news stories by email. Outrage carries a lot of water, but it is awe that really motivates people to share stories. We all want to seem like the cool kid on the block and share stories that make us look like we have some nifty insider knowledge. I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that SOFREP exists somewhere inside this media environment, but I hope we do a bit of a better job than peddling clickbait to an increasingly narcissistic culture.
The point is, petty emotions are not going to solve America’s problems. Likewise, we can’t go back in time. The good old days of 1776 aren’t coming back, and they probably weren’t what most “patriots” think they were, anyway. With the issue of race once again at the forefront, it is important to remember our history, to read America’s founding documents, and then take a critical look at it. We have to acknowledge our shortcomings, from slavery to Jim Crow, but also recognize that the foundation of this country created by our founding fathers also created a platform for future civil rights leaders to stand upon and insist that all men are created equal.
America now has to grow up and do it without growing old, which would mean sinking deeper into political polarization, pitting various political factions against each other. These factions would all hold deep-seated, passionate convictions about political ideals and be unwilling to budge. Real politics involves painful compromises, but right now a lot of folks seem to have forgotten what a republic is. It is scary to hear people say things like, “We need another 9/11 to get this country back on track,” or “We just need to get the right people in office.” The “right people” are, of course, the ones aligned with your particular political ideology.
One of my favorites is, “You’d better go vote for [insert choice of presidential candidate], because this is the last election we will ever have.” I’ve been hearing that line over and over since the Clinton administration, but America seems to continue avoiding this looming apocalypse and keep chugging along.
When I look at America today, I see a people problem. Not an economic problem, not a social problem, not a true political quagmire. Political orbits are hardening, and it doesn’t seem that this is likely to change in the near future. America is a country that created a social framework for people to work together in a cooperative manner, without crushing individual freedoms the way they have been in other countries. As a global player, America stood up to fascism, communism, and terrorism, and the world is a better place for it.
At the moment, it feels like we are sinking into an age of irrationality. America will eventually grow out of this stage as people learn how to sort information and the lunatics fade further into the background. In the near-term, politics are going to be a painful experience, much more painful than they need to be.
On that note, I’ll take this opportunity to sum things up with a meme of my own: