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America: The Greatest Nation on Earth?

July 4, 2012


Jeff Daniels, in an HBO series, so he can swear like a sailor while morning the loss of moral leadership in America, gave an impassioned and scathing indictment on America, destroying a college student who dared asked a question (I saw the clip on YouTube, so I don’t know what she asked or any of the context; it used language I don’t want to promote, so I’m not going to link to it, sorry).  Nonetheless, he gave a compelling case, listing our low ranking in world categories and pointing out the only places we were number 1 was in negative categories.  Then he softened and said we were once the greatest nation on Earth and listed very true reasons why were then and not now.  His conclusion was that we weren’t anymore and how sad that is.

He made some good points… very good points.  But I differ with his conclusion.

Point by point, other nations outrank us in education, sciences, this that and the other thing, but in the aggregate, we are the greater than the sum of our parts.

Democracy stinks, but it’s still the best form of government in the world.  When it’s bright and shiny new, it’s fantastic.  As democracy continues to secure freedom and freedom continues to generate wealth and comfort, democracy loses its luster and becomes self-indulgence.  The law no longer is a fence to keep us from harm but a basis for morality—if it’s legal, it’s okay; if that’s the line, maybe we can push it a little further.  Morality is about what we do, not what we’re not supposed to do.

We’ve become a selfish people with the worst kind of politicians on both sides of the aisle. And if that was it, then Daniels would be correct.  But that isn’t it.  Democracy may be tarnished, but within it is the means and ability to rectify these wrongs.  We have the process to replace shady politicians for better ones.  We have communication methods to reach out and inspire people to a better path.  We have an internal hunger for freedom that will eventually conquer.

It’s that built-in mechanism that makes America the greatest nation on Earth.

Our return to glory will never be on the back of government.  We the people must regain our sense of responsibility, justice and compassion.  Our churches must be filled by believers and led by men who speak the truth of grace and accountability that God freely grants to the repentant.

In modern history, we hear a lot about how rich and corrupt the founding fathers were.  That they simply wanted to safeguard their own wealth.  Yes, they were human and sinners all, but the government they gave us enabled everyone with the commitment and wherewithal to join them in riches.

To celebrate our nation’s birthday, the greatest gift we could give ourselves would be simplified government, a simple tax policy, simple laws and better people.

That’s a mountain of a gift, but the seeds of possibility exist in our Constitution.  And that Constitution is the reason we’re the greatest nation on Earth.  We should get back to it, don’t you think?


3 Comments leave one →
  1. July 6, 2012 2:01 pm

    I had actually thought of sharing that very video with you when I saw it, to get your thoughts. I think we agree with Mr. Daniels’ character (and each other) that we’re currently falling far short of the ideals of America. I would further agree with him that we can’t realistically claim title to the ‘Greatest Nation On Earth’ title anymore–not that I really think any nation can make such a claim.

    What’s the answer? I don’t know. As a nonreligious person who doesn’t draw much of a connection between religiosity and morality, obviously I don’t think filling the churches and halls of government with Christians is the answer–our leaders are already overwhelmingly Christian (even if in name only) and it’s not doing us a lot of good.

    I think that the greatest part of the answer lies nearest your comment about the Founders. Many of them were wealthy men for their day, yes, but they were wealthy by dint of their intellect and fortitude, and–most important–they were not so far removed from (and hence willing to abuse) their non-wealthy countrymen.

    In the words of Jefferson, describing the America of his day (emphasis mine): “And, first, we have no paupers, the old and crippled among us, who possess nothing and have no families to take care of them, being too few to merit notice as a separate section of society, or to affect a general estimate. The great mass of our population is of laborers; our rich, who can live without labor, either manual or professional, being few, and of moderate wealth. Most of the laboring class possess property, cultivate their own lands, have families, and from the demand for their labor are enabled to exact from the rich and the competent such prices as enable them to be fed abundantly, clothed above mere decency, to labor moderately and raise their families.”

    In other words, it was a place of far greater equality of income than other places of the time, and than we have now, because TJ (and the other Founders) knew that an aristocracy dominated by the wealthy would degenerate into rule by the worst, because ever in history has that been the case. And indeed it has here as well.

    So my answer on how to recover the American ideal is simply to move back towards greater equality. I’m not so sure simple (read: less) government, simple (read: less) taxes, and simple (read: less) laws would get us there.

  2. July 9, 2012 5:39 pm

    I’d probably agree with most of your points. While I don’t think morality is tied to Christianity, I do think true heart change is only won through God, and that’s what needs to happen for the income disparity to correct. There is no moral way to remove the wealth of the rich and give it to the poor other than hard work on both parts.

    The uber-wealthy must want to serve their fellow people and the poor need to stop thinking the world owes them a living.

    I think the world needs another Eisenhower, who was not a politician and made decisions on the basis of what would help the country, not his own chances. He was a centrist, too. Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Lincoln, Eisenhower and Reagan were visionaries. That’s what we need to turn the country around; leaders who can help the citizenry think differently.

    • kverdeck permalink
      July 10, 2012 10:07 am

      And I agree with most of this. 🙂 I’m just not so sure it’s possible, at least not until we can tame the influence of corporate money on our politics and on our increasingly-shrill media. It’s become nearly impossible to be a centrist, it seems, at least for our politicians. Say what you will about Obama, his 2008 platform of Hope and Change sounded darn good. I think we all know that change is needed, and hope is one of those words that no one can be against (what, you’re opposed to kittens and rainbows too?!). It hasn’t panned out very well, since what little change we’ve seen (and really, compared to Bush there has indeed been little change aside from Obamacare) has been too little and/or headed in the wrong direction. Romney promises an overt return and even a doubling-down of Bush’s policies–less regulation to protect the environment/workers/consumers/the economy, more tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations, more slashing of the social safety nets our less-fortunate need. Anyway, even if a real leader were to stand up, on either side of the aisle, I don’t doubt that he’d be ridiculed and shredded by the opposing party (and their media mouthpieces) purely in the name of partisan politics. It is a sad state of affairs.

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