There was a time where a new administration was given a little room to maneuver, assess the lay of the land, and propose their version of the future. It was euphemistically called the ‘honeymoon’ period. With the tensions of the political battle settled by the democratic vote, all sides took a breath and allowed the usual mild chaos of coming and going administrations as a typical price for the democratic tradition of peaceful transition.
So much for past munificence. We are in a time of open wounds and feeding frenzies, and the careful accords of a functioning democracy are teetering on the brink of real trouble. Yet, the leaders of this society, pushed by the most fragmenting and anarchic of their base, continue to push blithely toward the edge of no return and project a smug happiness about their actions. The carefully balanced blocks of our civility could come tumbling down and woe to those who pretended that their actions were independent of the calamity.
The President gave a speech to a joint session of Congress the other night and asked for the focus and attention of all on the nation’s values and societal challenges. He presented the following radical notions.
- the nation should stand united against all hatred and prejudice.
- the nation should set an agenda of improvement that will be in keeping with the appropriate 250th anniversary celebration of the founding of the nation
- we need to marshall our strengths to defend our borders, defeat the epidemic of drug addiction, restore our neglected inner cities, and keep our promises to the American people
- we will reduce stifling regulations that stand in the way of entrepreneurial advancement of the society
- we will restore our defense capability to prevent threats to our nation’s security from gaining traction
- we will restart the engine of the American economy to help those who have been left behind
- we will ask for all parties to work together to fashion an immigration process that supports stability and the rule of law
- we will ask all parties to work together to restore health care access and affordability
- we will ask for support for education reform that provides opportunity for disadvantaged youth
- we will ask that our international partners play a meaningful role in operations to preserve free societies, and pay their fair share of the burden to defend themselves.
- we are one people, with one destiny, with shared values of freedom and civic duty
Half of the audience, and half of the country behind them, could not see a sliver of commonality in any of these vision statements of our shared challenges. They could not see the value in rising to their feet to salute the sacrifice of one of their own brethren in a fair off land who sacrificed his life for their freedom. They could not hear any hope, any desire to improve the country, any recognition of the means to restore the nation’s pride, stability, prosperity, or leadership in the world, delivered by an individual that they have determined is illegitimate, because he won an election they assumed was theirs.
Within hours of the speech, the talk has returned to undermining the new leadership at every turn. The ‘dark state,’ the permanent bureaucracy tied to the agenda of statist philosophers, demands investigations, leaks confidential information, calls for resignations, declares chaos, shrieks invectives, and obstructs in a developing meme they refer to as the #resistance. The President, a pugilist at his core, lashes out with a nefarious eye for an eye mentality, darkly suggesting the previous President dictatorially used the enormous powers of the dark state to directly spy on him as a candidate.
Each contributor to the madness positions themselves for posterity rather than focus on the nation’s needs. The left violently disrupts free speech and the exchange of ideas on campus, disrupts town halls with organized chaos, form fit news into pre-baked descriptions that bias any objectivity. The right stands back and picks apart every idea that is not ideologically pure, and waits for the President to fail so they can be proved right that he was not philosophically worthy. The middle loses any faith in the democratic model to address the societal issues , as every issue is assigned as a win or a loss in the epic war for a singular society in which the outcome is predetermined and only one version of the truth exists.
We are asking for trouble, and trouble will find us. If real threats arise, will we be paralyzed by our differences and unable to respond in a concerted way? If there has been real malfeasance, have we lost the capacity to stand up for equal justice and the rule of law? If any of the President’s visions bring a form of success, will we be incapable of recognizing it and investing in the momentum? Would we throw 250 years of human progress away, out of spite that progress must be in keeping with the principles only we recognize?
President Reagan recognized the frailty of our society and the role each generation must play in recognizing their responsibility in preserving the experiment in freedom:
Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.
Every day we cannot be at war with each other, or we will be unable to recognize when real conflict begins. Building greatness is not about being great. It’s about structuring the society so that each at least has the chance to be great, in their way, and in their time. We can argue about the means to attain the idealization of our values, but if we are arguing our very values, then the American experiment is truly done.
Let’s get off each other’s backs. Let’s point toward what we can get done, and get to work. You don’t have to be comfortable with every version of success, to recognize that success is a desirable outcome. To everyone who wants to simply sit on their hands and wait for the ship to finally tip over, find another occupation. We simply can’t hold up winning any longer to make you feel better about yourself.
Dr. Larry Arnn is the President of Hillsdale College, an institution of learning that is dedicated to the idea that values still matter, and learning is a journey of discovery that should build on all of our accumulated wisdom. He’s afraid for the future of this free society. Take some time to listen, and start your healing.