The soaring American spirit is being killed by the feverish delirium of populist political extremism. Moderation is now heresy. Noble impulses have become weaknesses. Those who stoke our fears are seen as the strong to be admired; our new heroes.
So what's wrong? Alain de Botton,
atheist author of the book Religion
for Atheists: A Non-believer's Guide to the Uses of Religion, argues as we take
religious principles out of public education we are depending on culture to
teach us how to live.
writes, "We have implicitly charged our higher-education system with a
dual and possibly contradictory mission: to teach us how to make a living and
to teach us how to live. And we have left the second of these two aims
recklessly vague and unattended."
So what's the result? Here's a few ideas to ponder: Intellectual inquiry has fallen to a form of fact-free, know it all, bravado. The maverick politician has edged the thoughtful statesman out of favor. The noisy grandstander owns the day. The student of complexity is now an obsolete artifact. Strident manipulators replace sincerity; their lies and distortions well rehearsed and familiar. Simplistic solutions treat complexity as though it is a poison ivy rash on the body politic. Thoughtful analysis goes unrecognized in the mindless cacophony that passes for public debate.
As a result, we're frozen in place; hands locked around each other's throats. We've exchanged the time honored art of compromise for the illusory comfort of polarized certitude. We don't worry about fixing problems; instead we're satisfied to fix blame.
We've succumbed to a unique American meanness; magnified in the echo chambers of our bi-polar national discourse and amplified by millionaire bloviators.
The mega-rich fleece the masses, while the masses defend their right to be fleeced. Our middle class is disappearing at its own insistence; victims defending their persecutors' rights.
America was the land of opportunity now vanished into gamed financial complexity, earning the lowest rank of economic mobility in the modern world.
America was the land of religious freedom, now split into right and left hemispheres reflecting our dysfunctional political predilections.
America was the land of free expression, acceptable thoughts now sublimated to the national delusion of exceptionalism.
Have we destroyed the nation born of the blood of patriots: Men and woman with noble impulses for people who would follow? Or were they just as mythological as our exceptionalism, those patriots who formed and nurtured the nation we know today?
We've allowed manufactured outrage to replace the news. Our politicians are bought by the highest bidder. We hold firm in our corners awaiting the next opportunity to vacuously pounce on our political opponents.
Our educational institutions have turned away from the quest for virtue to the achievement of material success.
From the same book by De Botton, "In John Stuart Mill's words, "The object of universities is not to make skillful lawyers, physicians or engineers. It is to make capable and cultivated human beings.' Or in the words of Matthew Arnold, education should "inspire in us a love of neighbor, a desire for clearing human confusion and diminishing human misery.' At its most ambitious, "it should engender nothing less than a noble aspiration to leave the world better and happier than we found it."
We've subordinated our noblest impulses to the transient pleasure of maximizing shareholder value. In this context, the soaring American spirit is not only doomed, it has no chance of resurrection.