The American Republic at Dusk
In 53 days, just over 60 percent of voting age Americans will decide that either President Obama has earned more time “to fundamentally transform America,” or we need Governor Mitt Romney to take the wheel of our ship of state and reverse course. And if I’m totally honest with you, while I fully intend to cast my vote, I’ve essentially checked out of this election.
When political commercials come on, I either mute the sound or I leave the room. Reading the political news is the emotional equivalent of having too much blood drained from my body, an affliction with which I’m familiar from recent personal experience.
Social media has become a war zone, and even my attempts at measured and respectful discourse are sometimes met with challenges to my integrity or ancestry. Their name-calling doesn’t affect me because the people hurling invectives don’t know me at all, and I am confident in the One who knows me best, and where I stand with Him.
That doesn’t mean, however, that I like to argue, or that I revel in insults or seek them out, and I’ve learned, to quote the Desiderata, to “avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.” Even Jesus didn’t waste time with such people, telling his disciples, “And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town” (Matthew 10:14, English Standard Version).
The bottom line is that I’m done with this election. There’s nothing that anyone can say or do that’s going to change my vote, nor can I imagine an event that would cause me to reconsider my decision, so I’m just waiting it out until November 6th.
It’s not that I don’t care. I care deeply. I just have no hope that it’s going to matter in the long run.
Neither candidate is speaking to the deep philosophical divide in our nation, and the resulting loss of cohesion and community.
One candidate speaks the language of American exceptionalism, but he is so measured and reticent in manner and tone that I’m unsure he truly grasps the enormity of the restorative task before him. Our economic challenges are huge, and the decisions needed to tackle them are going to be painful and unpopular. The horrific events in the Middle East this past week illustrate the ongoing battle with radical Islam and the clash of worldviews, where the practice of our most cherished freedoms collides with the rage of Muslim terrorists.
More critically, our divisions and differences of opinion on public policy are the result of fundamental variances in values which, if not addressed, will make it more difficult to govern effectively. We need to find our common center again, if indeed we still have one, and I don’t know if this candidate grasps the gravity or the difficulty of that task, or if he even thinks it’s necessary.
The other candidate is so persuaded of the essentiality of his reelection that he and his supporters are fabricating race wars and wars on women, and manufacturing offenses to set us at each other’s throats, seemingly unconcerned about how exceedingly difficult it will be for either him or his opponent to put the pieces back together again after the election.
If he loses, how does his opponent persuade the American public to rally around him when they’ve been ceaselessly bombarded by claims that he’s a racist, misogynist, homophobe, elitist, and a sworn enemy of the middle class and the poor?
If he wins, how does he secure the support of the half of the populace that he and his supporters have spent the better part of the past two years belittling or demonizing, branding them as ignoramuses, fascists, sexists, or racists, simply because they didn’t agree with his policies?
Is winning the White House so vital that the nation must be set aflame in order to do it?
I don’t see a positive long-term outcome from this election, regardless of who wins because, in my opinion, the idea of “we the people” is dead. In fact, we despise each other so much that we think nothing of wishing harm or even death for those with whom we disagree – and we’re not shy or subtle about it, either.
Many of my friends say I shouldn’t give up so easily, that we will prevail in the end because our nation is blessed.
Do we really think God is blessing America today? Why should He?
We either disavow His existence, declare Him to be one of many “truths” from which we can choose without consequence, or we treat His law like an a la carte menu, picking what we like and leaving the rest. We dismiss or distort His commands because certainly the God of ancient history couldn’t be less enlightened than we are. In fact, in word and deed, we are offended by God.
We don’t need God. As far as our words and actions are concerned, we are God.
And I think He’s more than willing to grant us the crown we seek, and leave us to our own devices. In the entire Bible, God never forced Himself on anyone, and He’s not about to start now. As C.S. Lewis states, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell, choose it.”
In my opinion, it’s time to disabuse ourselves of the notion that we are entitled to a perpetual run as a world superpower. Who said that America should survive any longer than any other great nation of history? Professor Bradley Birzer of Hillsdale College has been pointedly pessimistic about the survival of Pax Americana, the American republic as we’ve known it:
Do we imagine the U.S. will last forever? If so, we are fools…I see little beyond a bleak twilight. I see no justice in our federal government. I see only poison, corruption, and darkness. I see that our economy is tenuous and shaky at best. I see a national debt that is insoluble. I see an education system that is almost totally utilitarian and without redeeming value, a grand babysitting scheme to keep potential hoodlums off the streets and competition out of the labor pool.
Our position abroad is without direction, and I would guess with only slight trepidation that more people outside of our borders hate us than did on September 10, 2001.
Where is the light? Where do we see hope? There are cracks here and there, but the barriers and obstructions continue to mount, crowding in upon us, forcing us ever closer to the whirligig of the abyss.
For several months now, my spirit has been unusually troubled by everything I see and hear around me, and I’ve been trying to adequately describe what I’m feeling. At the end of the day, I think what has been disturbing me is the inevitability of our decline as a nation. As a veteran and a patriot with a deep and abiding love for my homeland, I initially found that prospect disquieting, but when I began looking at it from God’s perspective, I came to understand that we are not promised anything outside of His will.
It is a fact of human nature that we do not make fundamental changes, individually or collectively, without first enduring adversity. Therefore, I am convinced that we must experience troubled times unlike any we’ve known recently before we will return to the basics that made us the greatest nation in world history.
Since I don’t like painting such a grim picture without offering a way out, let me try to leave you with some hope.
In my opinion, the answer to the restoration of the republic lies in a famous quote from founding father and our second president, John Adams:
Because we have no government, armed with power, capable of contending with human passions, unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge and licentiousness would break the strongest cords of our Constitution, as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.
Our recent political discourse has been dominated by questions of individual liberty and the role of the state, but those of us who promote virtue – “a moral and religious people” – as the glue which holds us together as a nation have been told our arguments are irrelevant or divisive.
In fact, the founders designed our form of government with virtue in mind, and they understood that without virtue, liberty and the law become corrupt. If we lament the unethical or immoral nature of the modern state or the private sector, we must acknowledge that these institutions are derived from a people who have themselves become morally adrift and numbed to the loss of what the British call “good manners.”
I’ve come to believe that a balanced, harmonious society is comprised of liberty, law and virtue. If liberty is the domain of free people and free markets, and law the domain of the state, then virtue is the domain of civil society, comprised of families, churches, charities, and other non-state and non-market actors which build a sense of community, and encourage mutual respect and care.
Alexis de Tocqueville called them “associations” and emphasized them as a key characteristic of American exceptionalism. Unlike the people of other nations, Americans, in Tocqueville’s observation, voluntarily came together in their communities to help each other and meet common goals:
Americans group together to hold fêtes, found seminaries, build inns, construct churches, distribute books, dispatch missionaries to the antipodes. They establish hospitals, prisons, schools by the same method. Finally, if they wish to highlight a truth or develop an opinion by the encouragement of a great example, they form an association.
They didn’t need state coercion or market incentives to motivate them, and a large part of why they did it was the influence of institutions like the family and the church, which taught us to care about and for others. These institutions have a moderating influence on the state and the free market, and they make self-governance possible.
To the extent that we’ve allowed civil society to erode, our balance and harmony have eroded as well. Going forward, regardless of politics and elections, the renewal of the republic depends on restoring civil society and reviving our nation from the bottom up, thereby making each of us personally responsible for saving our nation by saving our communities. Otherwise, the dark part of twilight awaits the United States of America.