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The Collapse of American Ideals

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First amendment goes “too far”, say students in survey. Huh? Whatever happened to the notion of free expression, and of protection of dissent? Our schools (and parents!) must not be doing very well at all at the task of educating our young people to be citizens fit for self-government. This survey is more than a little alarming to me, because attitudes like this and apathy among our citizens is the first step to the end of the “American experiment”. As President Lincoln once said, no foreign power could ever defeat us; the death of America would come from suicide.

And that leads me neatly to the next headline, Gonzales confirmation will bring Lincoln prophecy to bear (2nd letter). In my experience, the U.S. Constitution, and in particular the Bill of Rights, has been a statement of ideals larger than just nationalism. As the letter writer says, the Bush administration appears to understand the Constitution as a legal rather than a moral document. Odd, for an administration which spends a great deal of energy talking about the moral basis for its policies, particularly foreign policy. I think that historians will remember these years as the time when the torch of leadership in protection of human rights was passed from the United States to the European Union. Interestingly, the EU’s counterpart to the U.S. Bill of Rights is presented as a Charter of Fundamental Rights and states in its preamble: “the Union is founded on the indivisible, universal values of human dignity, freedom, equality and solidarity”. This language, and the public policy of the EU, demonstrates a much more universal concept of the applicability of the principles of human rights than the narrow, legalistic idea endorsed by the administration.

Finally, as if it was necessary to emphasize any more how the United States is moving away from the progressive, liberal ideas that dominate the rest of the fully developed world, consider these two articles: GOP taking aim at health insurance paid by employers, and That darned fiscal crisis shreds the safety net. These discuss how the administration is attempting to destroy what little exists of the social safety net in the areas of healthcare, social security, education, and housing assistance. The assault on all aspects of our civil society is breathtaking to behold, and the prospects of major pieces of this assault succeeding are more than a little frightening.

Why this is all happening? I don’t profess to know all (or even maybe any) of the answers, but I think that the root of many of our troubles is this: at its heart, the United States has become a fearful nation. Fear and insecurity drives us to lash out at those who are different and to be more selfish and less generous with others, particularly those who are less blessed than ourselves. Fear is responsible for the idea that security is more important than liberty, as expressed in the USA Patriot Act. Fear is responsible for the acceptance of racial and religious profiling as acceptable, normal ways to enforce laws. Insecurity drives people to be more concerned about lowering their taxes than ensuring equality of opportunity or access to healthcare for all. Fear drives citizens of a democracy to endorse wars of aggression instead of the exercise of diplomatic pressure, consistent policies, and unwavering commitment to justice and human rights.

Unfortunately, I don’t really have a happy ending for this piece. Everywhere I look I find discouraging signs. I only hope that the unraveling of America’s ideals will be stopped before too much more damage to our nation and the world has been done.

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About Roy Smith

  • Eric Olsen

    very interesting thoughts and well written – I’m not sure our current foreign policy is based upon fear or a determination to not be fearful — I’m inclined toward the latter — but there is no doubt 9/11 struck fear deep into the heart of the nation. Thanks and welcome Roy!

  • Ayu

    Bravo! If everyone thought they way you do, the world would have been a better place 🙂