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Why Our National Pessimism?

Caricature of Steve

The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank today cites statistics to show that Americans are no longer optimistic.  Although I concur, the problem goes deeper that he describes.

Throughout our history America has been a country of opportunity. A new world for people seeking religious freedom, a sanctuary from political oppression, an endless land of expansion for the poor to put down roots and start anew, a place that rewards exploration, innovation, creativity and old fashioned hard work.

 At least that was America until our generation.

 Although the United States still is a beacon of hope for millions—even children risk their lives to cross our southern border—for others we are engulfed in a malaise of national self-doubt. Why?

 America no longer is a new frontier. The westward expansion has ended. Instead of moving toward the horizon and breaking new ground, we have chosen complacency.

 The veterans of WWII returned home convinced that they had saved world. The G.I. Bill rewarded thousands of former servicemen and women the promise of post-secondary education and its subsequent opportunities.

 Women, who entered America’s factories to replace their fathers, brothers and husbands drawn to war, discovered a life outside the home and they would not easily accept their former roles. Men and women were fighting for America at home and abroad.

 The nation was buoyed and united by a sense of national purpose—patriotism if you will. The shared sacrifices forged a bond among citizen and a belief in what it was to be an American.

 We struggled and won. Patience, persistence, hard work had paid off. We now would apply those values in peacetime America.

 Our post-war economy grew, jobs were plentiful, home ownership boomed and the children of this “ Greatest Generation”—the baby boomers grew up in an easier world. The type of world our parents dreamed for us.

 More of us went to college than our parents. Most of us found higher paying jobs and we bought larger, more expensive homes and cars at an earlier age.

What changed?

 The end of the draft erased what had been for many males a right of passage. A common experience that reinforced the belief that hard work coupled with discipline and sacrifice are the hallmarks of the American spirit.

 Today we no longer have a national service obligation. We no longer demand a shared sacrifice. A sense of commitment to a unified cause has disappeared.

 Material rewards that were long in coming for our parents now are just a credit card away. The long-awaited prize of affordable home ownership that came with patience and persistence now became easily and quickly acquired through all-too-easy loans, imaginative financing, and our addiction to materialism.

 Religion and faith in a power greater than ourselves has been replaced by a worship of possessions. An opiate that feeds upon itself but leaves no lasting satisfaction.

 The conclusion is obvious

As a nation we have become soft. We demand little of our citizens and in return they give less. Hard work and its own reward have been replaced with material desire that is easily obtained and thus has little long-term value.

 Apathy and complacency have replaced idealism and high expectations   Our national leaders are incompetent yet we have no outrage.

 We blame the other instead of accepting responsibility for our own inactions.

 This is not the America our mothers and fathers wanted for us through their sacrifice. We have wasted a legacy and are unhappy because we lack purpose and direction.

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