Requiem For a Once Great Nation

The end of the American experience.

There’s an ominous whiff of civil war in the air.

With 400 million firearms in the hands of U.S. civilians, it promises to be a magnificent spectacle.

Trump’s childish refusal to shake Pelosi’s hand at the start of his State of the Union address and Pelosi’s pathetic tear-up of his speech said it all. They might’ve just as well have burned the U.S. Constitution.

Gotta hand it to you, America. After your circus performance during the Kavanaugh hearings, I did not think you could outdo yourself in clowning and chicanery. You have sunk to new lows, indeed.

As I watched the SOTU address, these warnings from the founding fathers echoed in my mind:

A house divided against itself, cannot stand. — Abraham Lincoln

Political parties are “the most fatal disease” of popular governments. — Alexander Hamilton

One of the functions of a “well-constructed Union” should be “its tendency to break and control the violence of faction. — James Madison

When Washington stepped aside as president in 1796, he memorably warned in his farewell address of the divisive influence of factions on the workings of democracy: “The common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party,” he said, “are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.”

“[Washington] stayed on for a second term only to keep [the] two parties from warring with each other,” says Willard Sterne Randall, professor emeritus of history at Champlain College and biographer of six of the Founding Fathers. “He was afraid of what he called ‘disunion.’ That if the parties flourished and kept fighting each other, the Union would break up.”

By that time, however, the damage had been done. After the highly contentious election of 1796, when John Adams narrowly defeated Jefferson, the new president moved to squash opposition by making it a federal crime to criticize the president or his administration’s policies. Jefferson struck back after toppling Adams four years later when Democratic-Republicans won control of both Congress and the presidency. “He fired half of all federal employees — the top half,” Randall explains. “He kept only the clerks and the customs agents, destroying [Adams’] Federalist Party and making it impossible to rebuild.”

While the Federalists would never win another presidential election, and disappeared for good after the War of 1812, the two-party system revived itself in the 1830s with the rise of Andrew Jackson’s Democratic Party, and firmly solidified in the 1850s after the founding of the Republican Party. Though the parties’ identities and regional identifications would shift greatly over time, the two-party system we know today had fallen into place by 1860 — even as the nation stood poised on the brink of the very civil war that Washington and the other Founding Fathers had desperately wanted to avoid.

620,000 Americans died in the Civil War of the 1860s. Brothers pitted against brothers in bloody carnage. I wonder what the body count will be this time around.

The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure. — Thomas Jefferson

I’m afraid, though, that the Civil War of the 2020s will not serve to refresh the tree of liberty nor give the American empire a new lease on life. Having long made a mockery of the nation’s motto, “Out of many, One” and trampled upon the ideals which gave it birth, the predictable outcome is a warring patchwork of ideological enclaves: The Republic of California, The Republic of Texas, The New Southern Confederacy…

Upon leaving the constitutional convention of 1787, Benjamin Franklin told a curious passerby that the Framers had produced “a republic, if you can keep it.”

Writing for The Atlantic, Adam J. White, Resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute asks: “What does it take to “keep a republic”?

“Nearly two and a half centuries into this experiment in self-governance, he says, “Americans tend to think that they keep their republic by relying on constitutional structure: separated powers, federalism, checks and balances. But constitutional structure, like any structure, does not maintain itself. Each generation has to maintain its institutions and repair any damage that its predecessors inflicted or allowed. This task begins with civic education, so that Americans know how their government works, and thus what to expect from their constitutional institutions.”

“Yet civic education alone, though necessary, is not sufficient. For civic education to take root and produce its desired fruit, the people themselves must have certain qualities of self-restraint, goodwill, and moderation. Because those virtues are necessary for the functioning of a constitutional republic, they are often called civic virtue, or republican virtue.”

What we are witnessing today in our elected officials is a total absence of republican virtue, without which, the house cannot stand.

When the war breaks out, I’ll just need someone to tell me who to shoot: the crazies in red uniform or the loonies in blue. Better yet, as the lights dim, the curtain closes, and the house falls, I should perhaps use my writing talent to chronicle the tragic denouement inspired by these words uttered by writer Henry Miller: “Rome has to burn in order for a guy like me to sing.”

R.I.P. America.


Read these companion articles:

Choose Your President Like You’d Choose a Governess

Making America Whole Again

 

Everyone’s Doing It

So it must be okay

In the face of new and more damning evidence in the impeachment trial against the Trump administration, I’ve begun to hear exculpatory comments from a few of his staunch supporters, like, “Every president has used the power of the office for personal gain; what’s the big deal?” or “Democrats are a bunch of hypocrites! Once in power, they all do the same thing,” or “Don’t tell me the Clintons didn’t use the presidency to line their pockets or help them get re-elected!”

It seems character no longer matters in these United States.

Raised in a third-world country under military dictatorships for most of my adult life, I know well how corruption works. I also know how it slowly infects every sector of society until turning it into a cesspool. I just thought America was different.

“Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience.” — George Washington

It appears the little voice of conscience is dead in America too.

Give a little whistle,” said Jiminy Cricket to Pinocchio.

Take the straight and narrow path

And if you start to slide

Give a little whistle

Give a little whistle

And always let your conscience be your guide.”

So here’s my whistle: Children are listening and watching what adults say and do, and they are masters at imitation.

It should surprise no one that according to a recent survey on the moral attitudes of young people conducted by the Josephson Institute of Ethics, 45% of boys agreed that “a person has to lie or cheat sometimes in order to succeed,” and that twice as many boys as girls agreed, or strongly agreed, that “it’s not cheating if everyone is doing it.”

Since I agree with American statesman Frederick Douglass that it is easier to grow strong children than repair broken men, my focus is on the youth in America, particularly its boys.

In thirty years of working with children,” says Dr. Michael Gurian, author of Saving our Sons, “I have never been more worried than right now for our sons. Nearly every problem we face in our civilization intersects in some way with the state of boyhood in America.”

I share Michael’s concern, and it seems many do so as well.

As a preface to their comprehensive and brilliant handbook on character strengths and virtues, Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman say their project coincides with heightened societal concern about good character.

“After a detour through the hedonism of the 1960s, the narcissism of the 1970s, the materialism of the 1980s, and the apathy of the 1990s, most everyone today seems to believe that character is important after all and that the United States is facing a character crisis on many fronts, from the playground to the classroom to the sports arena to the Hollywood screen to business corporations to politics. According to a survey by Public Agenda, adults in the United States cited “not learning values” as the most important problem facing today’s youth.”

Strengths of character, the authors suggest, provide the the stability and generality of a life well lived.

“The good life reflects choice and will. Quality life does not simply happen because the Ten Commandments hang on a classroom wall or because children are taught a mantra about just saying no. What makes life worth living is not ephemeral. It does not result from the momentary tickling of our sensory receptors by chocolate, alcohol, or Caribbean vacations. The good life is lived over time and across situations, and an examination of the good life in terms of positive traits is [essential]. Strengths of character provide the needed explanation for the stability and generality of a life well lived.”

They also underpin democracy, the rule of law, civic discourse, and the conscience of a nation.

In ‘Forgotten Purpose: Civics Education in Public Schools,’ educator Amanda Litinov says, “one of the primary reasons our nation’s founders envisioned a vast public education system was to prepare youth to be active participants in our system of self-government. The responsibilities of each citizen were assumed to go far beyond casting a vote; protecting the common good would require developing students’ critical thinking and debate skills, along with strong civic virtues.”

“Until the 1960s,” Litinov adds, “it was common for American high school students to have three separate courses in civics and government. But civics offerings were slashed as the curriculum narrowed over the ensuing decades and lost further ground to ‘core subjects’ under the NCLB-era standardized testing regime.”

Civic knowledge and public engagement is at an all-time low, reports the Center for American Progress. A 2016 survey by the Annenberg Public Policy Center found that only 26 percent of Americans can name all three branches of government, which was a significant decline from previous years. Not surprisingly, public trust in government is at only 18 percent and voter participation has reached its lowest point since 1996. Without an understanding of the structure of government; rights and responsibilities; and methods of public engagement, civic literacy and voter apathy will continue to plague American democracy.

While knowledge and understanding is essential to democracy, I argue that they are no substitute for virtue and strengths of character.

“A good moral character is the first essential in a man. It is therefore highly important that you should endeavor not only to be learned but virtuous.” — Letter from George Washington to George Steptoe, December 1790

Pressured regularly by Alexander Hamilton to participate in the first presidential election, and worried Americans would view him with distrust and think he simply desired power, Washington wrote this to Hamilton: “Still I hope I shall always possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain what I consider the most enviable of all titles: the character of an honest man.”

In its rapid plunge into the cesspool of moral relativism, the United States seems no longer willing or interested in forging its boys into virtuous men of character, like Washington. It also doesn’t seem much bothered by the blatant disregard for decency, honesty, and decorum of its elected officials on both sides of the aisle.

So I’m giving a little whistle.

Either listen, and act, or prepare yourselves to witness your once-proudful country being taken over by villains and their legions of lily-livered and unscrupulous sycophants.