The Value of a Nation that Believes
Are you proud of your country?
Most people, no matter their party, would say no. In fact, it has been almost two decades since more than half of Americans were satisfied with the direction of the country. The measurement tends to follow the state of the economy, but the first year of the Trump presidency has seen relatively stable numbers despite the rapid economic growth carried over from the Obama years. And just about anyone can see why.
We find ourselves, today, immersed in one of those periods of American history (the 1820s, 1880s, 1960s) when we realize together that things are not as good as we thought they were. There are the big ticket items we've known about for a decade—our titanic debt, entitlements bubble, foreign engagements, government increasingly unwilling to compromise—and a few catastrophes that caught the national conscious off-guard—deeper ruts in race relations that we could have imagined, a collective reckoning with sexual assault in the highest echelons of our society, and a Presidental administration uniquely offensive to the national palate—but there is a common thread: these last few years have felt like a watershed for us all, and almost everyone who hoped for relief in the 2016 election has been disappointed thus far.
We wanted to reshape our national identity—some in the image of a woman, others in the image of their parents and grandparents—we wanted to rebuild our economy for the 21st century—some on the back of our blue-collar past, others on the ideas of an information-based future—and we wanted protections from the developing world abroad—some by fighting 'invading cultures' and the global economy, others by embracing them., but is anybody really happy with how all of that went?
That corporate tax cut hasn't stopped large companies from laying off employees, we still have a budget deficit, the opioid crisis is still taking thousands of lives, we've embarrassed ourselves abroad more times than one could count, Congress has confirmed the least-qualified set of top executives in recent memory, we can barely get a state visit with our closest ally, and our top executive spends more than one in four days golfing. The list is certainly longer, but you get the point. The forgotten men and women of the flyover states, the young adults struggling to escape the grips of addiction, those struggling to pay for necessary health care, the families of little black children gunned down by police, they all need a little bit of hope, and someone, anyone, looking at the country now, cannot fault them for having none. Those of us who live comfortable lives, the President, members of Congress, have so much trouble seeing it, but the country is still hurting.
On the anniversary of Dr. King's birthday, it is useful to look back upon his life's work and the movement he led, especially to see and understand why his message was so powerful. It was not because he particularly supported one administration or the other, it was not because he incited anger or fear of our neighbors, and it certainly was not because he was willing to achieve his goals by any means necessary. Dr. King was such a powerful leader because he was committed to a uniquely American set of values—liberty, equality, and peaceful protest—he refused militant racial jingoism in favor of nonviolence, and he inspired Americans of all races and backgrounds to have hope in a country they believed to be broken.
As we move forward each day, through the rest of this year, through the challenges we are sure to face, we must remember those commitments. We must hold ourselves and our elected officials to decent conduct and adherence to Constitutional values above party affiliation, we must celebrate and practice nonviolence and refuse to hate one another, no matter how trying the circumstance or divisive the issue, and we must find hope in ourselves and the actions of each other. Our greatest leaders, those known and unknown, are those who have brought us together under the tent of what it truly means to be American, bringing with them the promise of a better tomorrow.
We have lost too many of our leaders (in government and entertainment) to the inflated sense of self that comes with a loss of purpose, but we still ought to believe in ourselves and those around us. There is so much that we can do to better our reality just by standing up for justice in our own daily lives, working with colleagues, mentors, family, and friends to affect the change we wish to see. We should have faith, as Dr. King did, in the promise of that method.