April 26, 2010 at 8:58 am, by Carl
John Adams said, “I have a zeal at my heart for my country and her friends which I cannot smother or conceal.” As I reflect on the USA today, that is how I feel. I love my country and want to serve her in whatever way. But as I look at America, it seems like things are dark, or at least really weird. It appears that we have drifted so far into, well, into darkness that I fear for her. My zeal for America is such that I risk big by attempting to offer some simple words of warning.
The times are crazy. We hunger for leadership in these days to help us, but if one were to peruse the bookstores, we have no one to trust. Liars one author calls Conservatives. Another complains of having lost his country. Actually several people claim that the country has been stolen by (insert name/issue here) ________. I’ve seen the culprit to be (ready?) the right, the left, Conservatives, Liberals, Bush (I and II), Clinton (both), Hollywood, Obama, Business, Communists, media, Christians, and government in general.
Supposedly, we’ve been Bushwacked, Lost our way, and told to Shut up and Sing. We’ve have Slander, Treason, and Dereliction of Duty thrown at us. We are either in the Savage Nation (not a happy sounding place), the Real America, or some other place (maybe we should long again for Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood). One author demands her Turn at the Bully Pulpit while another promises to Watch out for you.
Whew. I get sick to my stomach just walking through the bookstore. No longer are we in a time when the political parties and sides just disagree, but try to work together for the good of the country. No, instead, obviously there has been an insidious plot by everyone to destroy everything we hold dear (whatever that is). We’ve seemingly lost our ability to hear another side of things.
And government is at the middle of this. I have often stated in my college class where I teach American History that I rarely seem comfortable with the options that politics seems to offer us. “Here numberless and needless places, enormous salaries, pensions, perquisites, bribes, groundless quarrels, foolish expeditions, false accounts or no accounts, contracts and jobs, devour all revenue and produce continual necessity in the midst of plenty.” Sound familiar?
Well, actually that statement came from Benjamin Franklin writing from London in 1775. Earlier in that same letter, expressing his fears for our country were we to remain united, he said “I consider the extreme corruption prevalent among all orders of men in this rotten state. . .” To Franklin, the corruption in the English government at that point was horrendous. I’m glad he cannot see our own day.
But, as one glances at our history, we see that the moments of what Franklin called “the glorious public virtue so predominate” have always been few. Little more than 100 years after Franklin, Walt Whitman lamented in much the same way that Franklin had attacked our British cousins, but Whitman is attacking our own government.
“The official services of America, national, state and municipal, in all their branches and departments, except the judiciary, are saturated in corruption, bribery, falsehood, mal-administration; and the judiciary is tainted.”
Wow! Pretty harsh, huh? So, perhaps this negative spirit is not new. Yet, it seems that our times have grown progressively harsher. In most times of our country, the different sides have usually (not always) been able to provide a balance to one another rather than this loud rhetoric this plays as political chatter these days. Almost all of the early leaders agree on this—even as they did not see eye to eye in the last decade of the 1700s, they still believed that the overriding issue was serving the best for the country, not just the party.
But is it really just the government? Are we all so innocent to assume that these crazy, harsh moments in life are limited to the statehouse?
Whitman didn’t think so. His lament continues as he appropriately takes us past government alone. We cannot stop at pointing fingers at the government for, in the end, government is merely a human institution with humans in place. Were the issue only one of corruption in government, we should then see positive happy and healthy cities and towns where people experienced real community and joy. Does that describe your city or your experience of living? Didn’t think so.
“The great cities reek with . . .robbery and scoundrelism. In fashionable life, flippance, tepid amours, weak infidelism, small aims, or no aims at all, only to kill time.” Elsewhere, Whitman states “society, in these States, is canker’d, crude, superstitious, and rotten.” Even as President Grant attempted to give the country some direction during the critical years of the Reconstruction, society was reeling in what Mark Twain would call “the Gilded Age” (not a flattering description either).
So, the issue is not our government but us. Listen, the issues around us are real and frustrating, seemingly beyond our control; we’ve got Enron stealing, Madoff scheming, the President demonizing banks and sainted Tiger Woods sullied. Violence swells around us and our own children wonder why we expect anything from them since, for all their years, we’ve told them that they are not responsible.
Well, we are responsible. And it is high time that we began to look inwardly at our spiritual selves for a solution to these days.