America's foremost challenge and opportunity in the 21st century is to consider the question of whether she will continue to be that city on a hill spoken of by John Winthrop in 1630.
I've been thinking about this for a while, but became more focused, thanks to an article sent to me by an Australian friend from The Age newspaper in Melbourne. The author is commenting on the US economic situation. I found very little to disagree with there. The country is in a mess. But we didn't get here just because of economic choices. The source of the problem in the US is an out-of-control government.
The difficulty is in undoing the damage. I'm personally optimistic that the situation can be turned around, but it requires, not only smart short-term economic moves, but pinning our hopes on the right sort of political changes in the November election, and again in 2012, and the economic changes that (hopefully) flow therefrom.
The seeds of this disaster were planted in the early 20th century, going back to Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. The dirty work of undoing a century of progressive influence will be harder than we think. Progressive politics and policy are all tangled up with graft and corruption, and have become a way of life among the lifers in the US House and Senate and their enablers in the government, media and even private enterprise. It could be that an entire generation of politicians and public figures will have to die off or be otherwise removed from positions of power and influence before true societal change can be realized. Shades of the children of Israel in the wilderness....
Irrespective of the extant politics, I believe that America, by virtue of the circumstances of her founding and her various trials, is unique among nations. The American ideal is bigger than self-indulgent, small-minded politicians. In 2010 we need people who aspire to that uniquely American ideal and are not ashamed to wholeheartedly embrace and live it. People who see being an American, whether by birth or assimilation, as a prerogative and an opportunity, not to simply have and acquire, but to overcome trials and adversity with courage and hard work, and then succeed beyond their wildest imaginations.
We need these people, not only in politics and the media, but in schools and houses of worship, in the workplace and at home. People who are guided and compelled by the conviction that "everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required", not from the largess of man or government, but as a consequence of the very deliberate application of his blessings of intellect, passion, resources and talent.
Mr Ferguson is correct as far as it goes, but ours is not just an economic problem, but one of attitude and identity. Solving our economic problems will require the rediscovery of America's founding values and virtues - compassion, hard work, loyalty, self-reliance, thrift. It will require us to get beyond the self-indulgent "me-ness" of narrow agendas and petty politics, and the meanness of race and class warfare, willing to be judged, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, by the content of our character.
America has, at times, endured direst privation and enjoyed great wealth. Yet her underlying constancy, in the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen, yields the blessed assurance that this, too, shall pass.
Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty....