Why do we Americans place so much faith in our leaders? We want them to represent the best that humankind can offer our future. Yet we know they suffer from the human condition and will ultimately fall short of our hopes. This is our dilemma. We absolutely must continue to hope for the future while admonishing our roots and accepting our present.
Collectively, our government is comprised of such flawed individuals as ourselves. In this fallen state, one might wonder how we could progress at all. Yet, the human spirit endeavors from one generation to the next to reach beyond our frailties, despite ourselves, toward a better world.
America has struggled through this dichotomy of living in imperfection while messily travelling to a higher plane since our beginning. We are progressing, yet are condemned to repeat our past transgressions and to retrace lost ground. Lest we forget, however, in the midst of this current crisis of transgression, it is the greater momentum toward our desired outcome, and not our shortcomings or our lost ground that results from them, that defines America and our people. Through this frustratingly slow pace of advancement, we can find hope by pausing to celebrate the progress we have made while accepting the dichotomies of who we are as Americans.
• We are a nation carved out of the wilderness by deeply religious immigrants seeking a higher plane with God. This wilderness that became the United States just so happened to contain indigenous people who opposed our founders’ vision of the future.
• America was born of freedom-seeking European settlers who risked their lives taming this wilderness just to taste the freedoms it promised. Yet these same settlers decimated the indigenous population whom they deemed as standing in the path of progress.
• We stridently defended our newfound freedoms, extending the principles of the Magna Carta to our new colonies. Yet from our earliest beginnings, we enslaved Africans and consumed their energies in conquering this land. It would eventually take a bloody civil war to right America’s path toward universal freedom.
• Our paradigm of world order was founded on centuries of English law that had brought enlightened justice to the Western world. Yet, we adopted England’s concept of property rights and monetary principles, and declared them superior to the collective property and shared wealth concepts already observed by the indigenous people of this new land. Our laws defined our “reality of righteousness” and our European legal and financial tools justified the taking of America. (One way we measure modern progress is by how wrong we judge our earlier actions to have been).
• We captured the greatest spirit of adventure in exploring America and in setting out to tame it from sea to sea. Yet, that overwhelming spirit, when taken to extreme, became the skewed rationale for “Manifest Destiny” to take land by decree, enslave other races, transfer others to reservations, and colonize still others in our quest. Ours was a history of kings that decreed power from God to place rights on parchments to take from others, and to bestow the resulting entitlements on our own immigrants.
• Our newly formed federal government of 1791 embraced mercantilism, supporting the international trade of goods, creating a new class of ship builders, merchants, professionals and traders that would propel America into the next two centuries. Yet their decision also aligned America with the English trade of African slaves feeding American cotton production to English sweat shops, producing cotton garments for Indian opium to provide Chinese underground merchants in exchange for tea. Our quest to secure American independence through growing prosperity doomed us to the worldwide interdependent travesty of trading in human injustice.
• America embraced the Constitution as a uniquely powerful document and created an experiment in democracy that would provide a beacon of hope the world over. The Constitution provided the foundation for the resulting union of states to grow in prosperity and health. Yet as the living conditions from freedom improved the well being of most, they did not for all. While the average age at death of our founding fathers was 67, the average age at death of slaves was 25, requiring an ever increasing quota of new arrivals to fill the emerging disputed reality of how America would grow and prosper through the 19th century.
• The founding spirit of America’s pioneers made ours the land of opportunity for both wealthy elite and millions of arriving immigrants. Captains of industry created vast industrial enterprises, transforming America from a nation of fiercely independent rural farmers to one of interdependent mass factories competing in the world market. America’s farmers traded their plows for the promise of better living standards from industrialization. Yet they instead gained the reality of deplorable working conditions and endured the horrors of the World War I that emanated from the world’s industries chasing market share and colonies around the globe.
• America of the 1920s promised great fortunes that were indeed made by many. But most Americans did not share in business and bankers’ newfound wealth, and were unable to purchase the goods of the businesses that employed them to keep America growing. We thus suffered the Great Depression and shared the world’s painful retracement of humanity’s advancement.
Since the Depression and resulting World War II, America endeavored to put ourselves on a hardened path toward pursuing a brighter world future. Yet our own bifurcated vision of how to achieve a better world caused America to suffer her greatest dichotomy of actions yet. Rather than a unified march toward a singular goal, we instead endeavored to attack poverty and suffering while simultaneously creating a military that would forever more end all appeasements toward a third world war.
Our nation’s desire to meet two grand goals could not be sustained by even our concentration of the world’s wealth and power. While our government indebted America to the pursuit of these two visions, America’s elite escaped the cost of our misadventure by investing their wealth in the East’s vision of a new world order and by creating a housing induced bubble to finance their wealth transfer.
We now find ourselves having repeated the transgressions of our past and having suffered our greatest greed motivated bubble ever. Knowing that the dichotomous roots of America have always required the admonition of our past and the acceptance of our present while frustratingly moving forward, we must now once again learn from our transgressions and accept who we are. We will retrace our steps, work together within the confines of our imperfections, and messily advance toward the higher plane we seek for our country and the world, for that is by definition our America.