The Character of America

Author: Gary Hart

In the space of a lifetime great America has gone from asking what we could do for our country to small minded appeals to shrink our government and drown it in a bathtub.  For a long time it was appealing to believe that we were simply going through one of Arthur Schlesinger’s cycles of American history, a conservative era to be followed by a progressive era.  But there is a different, troublesome, much less traditional character to this current period of intransigence, bitterness, and hostility on the right.

Its roots may lie in the assasinations of the 1960s and the Pentagon Papers and Watergate of the 1970s.  A government capable of providing a social safety net was also capable of lying to its citizens.  A society capable of embracing a new Camelot was also capable of harboring assassins.  Other factors have also been at work.  Civil rights for African-Americans, a dramatically increasing Hispanic population, emergence of women into the work force, and gays and lesbians emerging from the shadows all characterize a dramatically changing society.  To the conservative mind that resists change, all these changes are overwhelming.

And then there is a ceiling to the American dream for many.  Incomes in the middle flattened in the 1970s and 80s under the impact of global competition and OPEC oil pricing.  Debt escalated to an extent that millions of Americans lost their homes due to mortgage manipulation.  Wealth flowed upward with tax cuts for the rich, and unemployment settled around ten percent.  All this put together replaces Happy Days with very angry days.  And a government weakened by distrust is about to default on its debts.

There has always been a force on the right in America.  In troubled times it attracts those not normally inclined to its fears and anger.  Anti-government anger will continue to exercise a disproportionate influence on American politics until at least one thing happens…Americans must regain confidence in their individual and our collective economic hopes.  Nothing would restore a sense of balance, promise, and optimism like a growing economy with job security and opportunities for the young and the unemployed.  While corporate America hoards its immense cash accounts, the government reduces infrastructure investment, and new wealth is limited to Twitter and Facebook projects, however, there is little hope for real economic growth in the near term.

The central question is whether economic recovery, and therefore hope for the future among the vast majority of Americans, will occur soon enough to prevent the establishment of a permanent force of the right, a force that will continue to mock any idealistic challenge to give something back to our country and urge us to hate our government.  It is fundamentally a question of who we are and what we believe.  It is a question of what kind of people we are and what kind of society and nation we wish our children to inherit.  It is a question of our national character. 

If we succomb to the forces of the right and hate the government we elect we will no longer be the America of our founders.  We will be some other kind of country.

16 Responses to “The Character of America”

  1. Kimberly Says:

    Well said. Thank you.

  2. Robert Crump Says:

    Perhaps the proposed “Super Congress” will save us from ourselves. Seriously, has there even been a more ridiculous proposal than the Super Congress? With this passing as deep thinking in Washington, it is no wonder we are in such deep trouble.

  3. Guerrier Elisabeth Says:

    I’m sorry to be in need to show these following words. The fact they can freely be published and red, on a site “yahoo news” not to mention it, that is widely opened to the world is maybe more than a sign of bitterness, it’s a result. The terribly long and lonely trip America made with itself as a mirror. You cannot build a sens of living on this ” American dream ” myth and put only the selfmade man with his financial and social success as the only goal and not have some secondary effects on a whole population that just cannot reach this goal and must put the hatred outside. It is touching the terrible famine in Somalia but it touches anything outside as well.
    So here are some of the comments taken as example of what the broad mass feels allowed to think and worst free to write : far right’s metastases, when you get injected in the blood!

    And yet they keep having babies they cant feed.
    _

    Hungry yet so fertile..whats wrong with that equation??????
    _

    Will we hear anything from Australia about the pregnancy boom we all know will happen after all these people at the refugee camps are fed? Highly unlikely.
    _

    2 million dead muzzies wouldn’t be so bad. The Syrian’s and eurotrash can’t seem to put up big enough numbers.
    _

    And this last one : a jewel.
    _

    The people of Africa are worse then rats.
    We need rat poison.
    Nuke the low lifes of the world and start over.

  4. Jim Engelking Says:

    Fear and loathing in America. IMO, our once proud nation suffers from PTSD, from the anxiety fostered by Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld to keep us from asking essential questions. President Obama gave the nation hope, but like LBJ, he allowed the wars to trap him and us in unsustainable military involvments on the other side of the world. After 10 years with no end in sight, the American people are as close to despondency as they have been since the Great Depression. You cannot expect rational thought from the whole of the people under these conditions.

    In the meantime, the world has changed fundamentally. Once poor nations have become economic giants: China, India, Brazil, for example. American education has slipped badly, along with our infrastructure, and American businesses have gone abroad for talent and labor, including the outsourcing of alomst everything the American firms and consumers demand. This was all made possible by the internet, an American invention, now exploited by every nation and person with access to a computer or smart phone.

    Unless community leaders arise to bring us together again, unless President Obama ends all the wars, military, economic, social, the downward spiral will continue. In the meantime, we each must see the humanity in the other person and act upon that commonality. The reactionaries, extremists and war mongers, including the international bankers and military-industrial complex, cannot defeat us and destroy the American character if we just tell them NO.

    If we refuse to be good neighbors with each other, it’s over.

  5. Carlos Deegan Says:

    I like this blog and often post it on machimon.wordpress.com because Gary has the ability to distill an issue down to its essence, where I sprinkle my posts with supporting links. Now that I’ve had time to evaluate Gary Hart over the years since he was a candidate for president, I regret that the machine manipulated his candidacy and edged him out.

  6. MinerSam Says:

    Glad to see you finally face reality. For me it began when Reagan launched
    his campaign in the place where the Civil Rights workers were tortured to
    death to appeal to those who would do such a thing for their votes, and told Americans that the Government he ran to control is their enemy, then began
    the destruction of the Agencies we Americans PAY to protect our Quality of Life and Standard of Living.

    Imagine where we would be if Reagan of the Gas&Oil Party of brainwashing And LIES had not removed the Solar Panels off the White House Roof which lost investors their shirts, or if The House Republicans (and their contract out on America in the 90s) had not prevented Clinton from repairing the Leevies and Wetland. Imagine if GWB and company had not destroyed FEMA and The SEC.CFTC,FTC,(No 1500 dead in New Orleans? or Financial Meltdown perhaps_ as they are now trying to destroy the EPA and the Clean Air Act which last year saved the lives of 160,000. Destroyed the MMMS so we had
    The Oil Spill.

    Now trying to Privatize Medicare as GWB tried to do with Social Security
    which would have required borrowing 5Ttillion to pay current recipients.

    Biggest Brainwash and Lie is anyone who says: “There is no difference between Democrats and Republicans” or “On Both Sides”

    Republicans kicked our country off the cliff, wracked up 87% of the debt, then Handed Obama a bomb and characterized him as though he is a terrorist
    which the Republican controlled Media repeats on every station.

    Obama would have had to end 2 wars the day he entered office, stopped Prescription drugs to seniors, and ended the Republican Tax cuts which
    BEFORE THE MELTDOWN only produced 9% in US Jobs.

    Another lie is that there’s a difference between the Tea Party and Republicans. The same people who organized it went after Clinton over
    countless things he was innocent of. GWB is the King of the Tea Party
    a party that controlls 80-90% of our information pipelines through which
    they have managed to get tens of millions to vote for them and against
    their own interests!

    It has not helped that evening entertainment consists of people voting
    their team members off the island. And the Beltway Media is another way
    of saying: “Republican Appeasers & Evey Station LIE REPEATERS”

    =A Fact based Intependent who believes in Truth. Justice. and the American Way, which used to be about Americans helping Americans raise barns. Don’t
    let them destroy the things that are not broken, and help rebuild the American Middle Class Which just happens to be the largest customer of the Capitalist World.

    In 2006 when Republicans lost their 12 year control of the House and Senate
    their operatives layed out their strategy that the only job Republicans have going forward is “TO Make the Democrats look bad to their constituants” The first to bite was Bill Moyers who started trashing Democrats on every one of his shows. And I wouldn’t want Lawrence Tribe defending me if I was guilty of some tribe.

    In 2001 Democratic Minority pleaded to keep paying off the debt, Republicans decided instead to ramrod 2 trillion in tax cuts for the dum among the rich
    (Which they used to drive up Commodities like oil, making US manufacturing muvh more evpensive.) This While they collected 1.5Trillion in Social Securityh SURPLUS

  7. The Character of America: Gary Hart « Machimon Says:

    […] If we succomb to the forces of the right and hate the government we elect we will no longer be the America of our founders.  We will be some other kind of country. http://www.mattersofprinciple.com/?p=723 […]

  8. Gary Hart Says:

    This old dog is far enough down the road of life, and has seen enough of it, not to need to be told that he is “finally facing reality.” Fact is, I’ve been facing it a lot longer than most.

  9. Nancy Lee Says:

    To MinerSam: GWB is NOT the Head of the tea party; he is merely a puppet. Grover Norquist and the Koch Brothers are the Head(s) of the tea party; Dick Armey was their water boy. Karl Rove and Dick Cheney still lurk in the shadows.

  10. Stephen D. Pillow Says:

    Senator Hart, again I agree wholeheartedly with your ideas, but ask, what exactly do we do individually and collectively to stop the Republican destruction of this nation? We need specifics. Unless we act immediately, it will be too late. The uprisings that started in the Islamic world this spring will soon spread to this country and all will be lost. The current impasse on the Budget is another example of the Republican Party not being interested in doing what is right for the country, but just another step to wrest more of the wealth and power away from the middle class and give it to the greedy, wealthy, and powerful. The wealthy will get through this situation unscathed again as they did in 2008 and 2009. It will be the middle class that will bear the burden of suffering and loss as a result of the actions of the Republican Party and the Democratic Party will be held responsible. It is very reminiscent of T.S. Eliot’s poem The Wasteland, for that is what America has become. “He who was living is now dead. We who were living are now dying. “

  11. Forest Book Says:

    While twelve step programs teach that half the battle of breaking ones addiction, or abuse is to recognize the problem; what becomes the character enriching journey is making decisions, making commitments and doing the work realizing the commitments that stop the abuse, and heal the content of ones character. Clearly the problems our nation faces are recognizable. The whole world sees them. We clearly see them. Where we are now, as a nation, and as a member of the global society/culture is proposing answers that reflect our intelligence and empower “the people,” not the .08% in control of our nations wealth. Being American is meant to exercise our capacity for reason; to nurture our national and international character. We are meant to see what we have done wrong; or where we have not acted in the cause of Democracies universal humanity, and work to fix it. So, what are some of the character betterments I feel may prove to be helpful (at least to move the conversation onward – forward): 1. Progressives need to abandon the two party system. Join an existing party like the Green Party say; or create a new party; but, challenge the dynamics of elections; especially on local levels. Challenge the validity of the Electoral College on the national level. 2. If we are to take the branded indignation of “Wall Street to Main Street” seriously, then we need to bring back the “Mom and Pop” store front. End the corporate socialism of a few big box (discount stores). How can we make Mom and Pop businesses competitive? We need their character more than we need another “brand.” 3. Make something other than debt, and war/military hardware our nations commodities. 4. Think local. Act local. Get involved on a local level. The members of ALEC are, and they are winning. This nation is majority Republican, and falling further and further into that mindset. Its being done one village by village, county by county across the United States. This mindset must be stopped. 5. Slash defense spending by half. Invest in our failing infra-structure. Next generation energy answers, next generation transportation methodologies; and the list goes on and on. We must accept that Social networking, shuffling papers, wearing name tags is not hard work. Shiny small screen culture is not culture; its a distraction from freethinking, and the hard work (face to face – shoulder to shoulder) of making character enduring, brilliant and principled. We are beyond chatting about it. I think we are at a powerful place to look to those you trust and ask: “What would you do?” Mr. Hart – thank you for the inspiration.

  12. Debbie Lackowitz Says:

    Hey Gary. Again thanks. So true. I don’t want to say ‘due to forces beyond our control…’ (I actually hate that phrase) cause it’s NOT true. We DO have control. We just have to TAKE it. Our nation has essentially spent the last 30 some odd years in some sort of ‘state’. Of somnolence, of denial, of hate(?) I don’t know, maybe all three. So how do we cope? As you said, vote off the island see ya next week! Never watch it myself, seems you don’t either. What it IS is mind-numbing. But the next question becomes, why? What has caused us to enter into this ‘zone’? Is it unique to each person? Might be. One of my friends likes to escape with ‘Biggest Loser’. I find it maddening, but love her just the same. Some facts here; while she’s watching ‘Biggest Loser’, she’s NOT taking the time she DOES have (works long hours, long commute) to really find out what’s going on. I’ll mention something current that has occurred and she either doesn’t know about it, or worse, has misinformation that I’ll try and correct. See. That’s the problem in a nutshell. We’re NOT informed, or so misinformed as to be the former. But it’s really worse actually. When you’re not informed, well maybe once you DO find out then it can be corrected. But this? Once you’re misinformed, you’ve already set your opinion. Sure. We vote in elections (those of us that DO). Many, many others ‘opt out’ of the system. They feel uninterested at best, angry at worst. Really? How could they? If something’s ‘wrong’ with the system (and there IS), then in a Democracy you don’t opt OUT, you opt IN. But to do that? Well, there’s the rub. You need to know. And our ‘fourth estate’ has failed us miserably. When Casey Anthony can upstage the debt ceiling crisis? Well what DO you expect? They want to sell (whatever newspapers and magazines we have left), and air time. Give the people what they want? Or what they need?

  13. Bill Pruden Says:

    Senator Hart has long faced reality and has spent more time and effort than anyone could reasonably ask trying to address the issues and challenges that have existed and worsened over the course of his political lifetime. Unhappily, too many of his allies have abandonedd the cause, often choosing cushy lobbying jobs over continuing the struggle. For all of the specific issues that one can identify, I believe the real challenge is to reestablish a faith in the system, to reconnect those who would not abandon our historic commitment to opportunity and humanity to the system so that the narrow interests espoused by those who would rewrite our history do not triumph unchallenged. As a teacher, I believe deeply that such faith must be instilled and reignited in our young people, and while, like Justice Brandeis, “my faith in time is great,” I also know that not only can time run out, but they cannot do it alone. Rather we all have a responsibility to balance the scales, to combat the messages of that narrow interest that are so counter to the broad “we the people,” and “all men are created equal” ideas that are at the root of our nation’s being. We must reintroduce the young to these old, but timeless ideas and from that base we can achieve a revival of the true American character. It is not too late!

  14. Judy McNichols Says:

    I very much appreciate your thoughtful commentary; we need more great minds like yours.
    I would like for you to consider addressing what is behind the current situation in our government: the control that the “Christian” Dominionists have on the Republicans/Tea Partiers. Until this is addressed more widely, nothing will change politically anytime soon. Until Michelle Bachmann, Mitch Daniels, Jim DeMint, Rick Perry, Tim Pawlenty, Sarah Palin, et al, are called “Christian” Dominionists’ politicians instead of social conservatives, I don’t foresee much hope for positive change for our country. The American public needs to know about the 7 Mountains of Dominionism and how it has taken over our country since 1975.

  15. Susan Reiter Says:

    The mantra that ‘governmentis the problem’ has worked well for the right. Deflecting from the real issues is their great success. Everyone needs to understand…We are the government. We are responsible for every awful thing that is happening in Washington today because we allowed ourselves to be duped by fancy talk and misdirection. Those representatives who continue to blame regulation and corporate taxes as the main deterrents to job growth are, for lack of a better word, liars. Lowering corporate taxes and eliminating regulation (such as those in place to protect our safety) simply mean more $ in their pockets…especially when they are able to ram through tort reform that will eliminate our ability to use the courts for remedy when their products harm us. I’m reminded of the old Ernie Ford piece ‘Sixteen Tons’. We will owe our souls to the company store…be little more than corporate slaves. No more American Dream…kiss it goodbye! It is time to wake up and smell the coffee…understand that neither party has our best interests at heart…though individual politicians may still hold to that ideal, corporate $ (power) have diluted that considerably.

  16. John McPherson Says:

    The Bible and the associated concept of the Kingdom of Heaven are our greatest allies in the mission to achieve the true justice, freedom, peace, and unity that is the natural right of every person in this nation and of every person and nation in the world. Thank you for your committment to this great cause. We not only can right our course, we must right it.

    “I see an America too young to quit, too courageous to turn back, with a passion for justice and a program for opportunity, an America with unmet dreams that will not die.” Gary Hart

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