It’s the Fourth of July, time to take stock of where we are

The New Era

In recent months and weeks we’ve been bombarded with news reports which demonstrate pretty clearly that our nation is in a period of rapid change.

Given that Independence Day occurs this week, what better opportunity to reflect on where we are at as Americans?

It’s not a very pretty picture – and surveys say most of us would likely agree that’s the case, regardless of our political preferences.

We’re concerned about our still-faltering economy and the titanic debt we’re saddled with.

We’re concerned about our standing in the world pecking order – which isn’t what many of us are used to or expect.

We’re concerned about the partisan gridlock in our legislative bodies – or when one party or the other sweeps along with its agenda, often with a lot of political chicanery.

We’re concerned about our military preparedness, or lack thereof.

We’re concerned about the massive levels of government assistance that does nothing to encourage people to be productive citizens.

We’re divided over gun control, gay marriage, immigration, abortion, drugs, climate change and a host of other issues.

After 237 years, the United States of America aren’t looking as, well, united.

The second annual Atlantic/Aspen Institute American Values Survey, released last week, suggests some rather sobering realities about where we appear to be headed as a nation.

The survey indicates that more than 60 percent of Americans believe we are more divided as a country than we were 10 years ago and are headed in the wrong direction, with even higher percentages saying our nation is at least as fragmented now as it was during the Great Depression, Vietnam, and Watergate.

And, according to the survey, 20 percent of Americans doubt whether the United States will stay together.

The changes we’ve experienced, not just most recently, but over the last 40 years or so, are monumental.

Studies show that, compared with the 1960s, today we’re bigger (fatter), watch way more TV, are more sexuality active (outside of marriage – and less inclined to get married), live longer, stay longer with our parents, have more college degrees, have less religious affiliations, smoke less cigarettes but more marijuana, have more problems with alcohol and drug abuse, and spend a lot more time with our kids. We’re also a lot more suspicious about government.

There’s more. How many of us who were alive in 1975 would have thought that we’d be seeing same-sex marriage becoming cutting-edge less than 40 years later? Back in the early 1970s, the word “gay” meant “cheerful” or “happy” to the majority of Americans, if you’ll recall.

How many of us would have thought that “1984” would be fast becoming a reality, that our government would be led by people apparently bent on steadily and systematically stripping away more and more of the “inalienable” rights we thought were provided under our Constitution. Did we think we’d be following so closely in the footsteps of Canada and Great Britain, where religious and civil liberties that we U.S. citizens have believed were rock-solid within our borders are being trampled under the march of progressive values?

Did we think we’d be living in a state of electronic surveillance by government officials who apparently aren’t batting an eye at what some of us see as serious encroachments on what we’ve always believed were our constitutional rights?

And what about our president, who has stated bluntly that his goal is to redistribute wealth in America? The fact that polls indicate a majority of Americans agree with him explains, in part, not only why he’s the president, but why he’s made progress with his agenda, taking control of private businesses, advancing an environmental agenda based more heavily on politics than science, traipsing around the world, telling other leaders how to run their nations (which isn’t really a new trait for U.S. presidents, but seems particularly intrusive when it happens with people who aren’t necessarily our bosom buddies), etc.

We’ve all heard myriad arguments and reasons for why we’re in the condition we are. What’s beneath the seeming growing disregard on the part of many Americans for “traditional” values – responsibility, equality, compassion, valor, ambition, enterprise, liberty, unity and what one study called “Puritan and pioneer morality?” (That last is the mentality that you are either a good guy or a bad guy and if you are not with us, you’re against us.)

Don’t get us wrong – those values still persist at some level, but in our increasingly politically correct world, which defines simple disagreement or moral judgment as hate, they cannot continue to provide the intestinal fortitude that has gotten us where we’ve been as a nation.

We’re so consumed with ourselves – entertainment, our social media presence, our sports, our rights, our preferences and our subjective personal notions of what’s right and wrong (if anything is), that we, as a whole, are losing our edge.

We’re not saying that things were peachy 50 or 100 years ago. There was injustice and hypocrisy, (particularly in racial relations), there were debilitating wars, there was poverty, there were family issues – often fueled by an inordinate focus on personal or corporate success, there was violence, etc.

But did Americans display more of those core values 50 years ago than we do now?

Do we have enough collective principle and backbone to stand up to our government, if necessary, and draw the line on encroachment of our liberties?

Any of us with a rudiment of recall from our days in U.S. history classes should remember that it was government oppression that led to the revolution we are celebrating Thursday, July 4. Our forefathers believed strongly enough in the principles of limited government intrusion on personal liberty and the need for strong representation that they actually died for those beliefs. That’s something to contemplate.

Woodrow Wilson, the 28th president of the United States, once said: “A nation which does not remember what it was yesterday does not know what it is today, nor what it is trying to do. We are trying to do a futile thing if we do not know where we came from or what we have been about.”

We should remember where we’ve been as we determine where we’re going this July 4.