It is an open secret and even odds approaching the bitter sweet realization that our American community is heading for a crash landing. The odds are growing smaller with each passing day that we will not be able to pull out of the nose dive of our collectively-chosen flight path. The above series of italicized oxymora were meant to be both attention-getting and at the same time to lead to a serious analysis of why the American community is coming apart. Most of us can see it happening but few can understand why.
This fear of disintegration is nothing new in the American psyche. James Baldwin expressed his own dread in an essay in The New Yorker fifty-five years ago. “Privately, we cannot stand our lives and dare not examine them; domestically, we take no responsibility for (and no pride in) what goes on in our country; and, internationally, for many millions of people, we are an unmitigated disaster.” (1)
There is no shortage of those who think they understand why Americans can’t seem to formulate workable policies for their community. Pundit David Brooks for example. “But I wonder if there is also a malaise, a loss of faith in the future and a loss of expertise in institution building, a sense of general fragmentation and isolation. American foreign policy, which used to be about building positive coalitions to make life better, now seems to be based on the idea that we should defensively withdraw from things. There has been a loss of civic imagination.” (2) What Brooks says may be true, it’s easy to speculate on what is going wrong, but where are the solutions?
Many of us can also find people and events on whom to project blame, donning the mantle of self-righteousness while coming up with pseudo-solutions. “Finally, the anti-urban mood in Washington and many state legislatures is making things worse for cities at the worst possible time. Badly needed investments in transit, bridges and tunnels, affordable housing and job upgrading and training are not being made. And pre-emption, the use of state law to nullify municipal authority, and President Trump’s threats to withhold federal subsidies from sanctuary cities are creating a sense of siege in many urban areas.” (3)
A few of America’s deepest thinkers have said that a sustainable human community must have a shared story or worldview (beliefs, attitudes and values) to give it cohesion and harmony. Americans don’t have that and never have. Take a look at what a few writers of American history have revealed. “You belong to a nation of bloodthirsty colonizers (Howard Zinn), or anti-intellectuals (Richard Hofstadter) or, in Kurt Anderson’s latest opus, a people who have committed themselves over the last half century to florid, collective delusion.” (4) Of course, each of these perspectives is true but none of them are profound at revealing the underlying structure of American consciousness. More about that later.
No human enterprise whether it is building a nation or an institution within that nation will be successful without a plan and a vision. Or in other words we must find the answers as to where are we going in America and how are we going to get there? For example, our current president (2017) does not have a viable vision or healthy worldview. Taking a look at the latest presidential challenge coin will reveal this. These commemorative coins dating back 20 years have been awarded for special achievements or milestones to military service members. On all coins previous to that of President Trump the coins contained the national motto, E pluribus unum, meaning “out of many, one.” Instead, on the current coin we find the president’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.” So what’s wrong with that?
“The Washington Post reported that the coin may soon be handed out to supporters and campaign donors in addition to military service members.” (5) We see a worldview shift in this behavior from emphasizing a long-honored motto citing the importance of many diverse peoples coming together to form one nation, unified in its determination to provide liberty and justice for all and to recognize those who make sacrifices in service to that vision. Instead: “Many social media users expressed outrage, calling the coin ‘tacky’ and a disgrace.” (5)
E pluribus unum embodies the vision of “oneness,” a coming together to form a united and fair community, what we call a “social contract.” Recent national disasters like Hurricane Harvey have revealed a broken social contract. “Recovery from previous disasters, like Hurricane Katrina, has had regressive effects, heightening disparities between rich and poor and perpetuating systemic racism.” (6)
Can the structure of American consciousness be changed or are the behavioral challenges cited above just the nature of the animal homo sapiens? The pendulum of history seems to be swinging toward a dystopia of late but it will reverse direction, probably soon, but that won’t be much help. Our challenge in the Global Village is to transcend the swing of the pendulum altogether. Luckily for our species, many insightful and compassionate people throughout our history on this planet have discovered the solution for our current dilemma. Click on the link below to reveal that incredible option.
Insight # 17: Any notion that our species has made progress on this planet would be an illusion.
- The Human Community, Chapter One, 1st essay entitled “The Evolution of American Identity” by Roy Charles Henry.
- Birmingham, Kevin. “Critic’s Take: Afterglow.” The New York Times Book Review. December 31, 2017, page 9.
- Brooks, David. “We Used to Build Things.” The New York Times. October 13, 2017, page A23.
- Florida, Richard. “The Urban Revival is Over.” The New York Times. September 1, 2017, page A21.
- Rosin, Hanna. “National Delusions.” The New York Times. September 10, 2017, page 1.
- Garcia, Sandra E. “Trump Puts His Slogan on the Presidential Coin.” The New York Times. December 24, 2017, page 13.
- Elliott, Rebecca. “We Need a Green ‘New Deal.’” The New York Times. September 1, 2017, page A21.