The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.
― Franklin D. Roosevelt
The more I consider the state of affairs in our country, the more I realize that fear is our single greatest weakness. It has become our defining characteristic. Fear is driving everything we do as a nation, and it is choking us. FDR spoke those words to a generation whose early lives spat at fear, but whose actions later in life paved the way to its control. More than the loss of innovation that I wrote about last, we have lost our courage and become a nation frightened cowards. We fight wars against weak nations for terrible reasons. We allow our vastly armed police force to terrorize our citizens. We imprison huge numbers of Americans without any thought to what it implies. We torture using methods we have executed people for. Its all because we are afraid.We are a shadow of the nation that faced facism because we have lost
We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.
― John F. Kennedy
Both FDR and JFK spoke to an American that has shrank from view and been replaced by backwards looking zealots wishing to retain a country they don’t deserve anymore. Once upon a time our clear problems and threats spurred Americans to action and accepting of sacrifice. We were willing to confront problems and accept challenges. Now we simply fear losing the advantages we have been granted since the end of World War 2. We aren’t even willing to admit that they have already been lost. The World isn’t static, and others have been willing to accept the sacrifices Americans have shied away from. Our body politic is two parts fear and risk aversion and one part pure denial. The denial is American Exceptionalism, which takes everything we do and casts it as divine and immune from all consideration and perspective.
To share your weakness is to make yourself vulnerable; to make yourself vulnerable is to show your strength.
― Criss Jami
We have massive problems in our nation that need immediate attention. Without change the problems will move from festering to metastasizing and exploding. Whether it is the curse of massive economic inequality and its risks to the bulk of the population and its toxic impact on politics, or our continuing racial inequities both are shrinking from any progress. We are allowing inequality to continue undermining any reality of to the increasingly mythical “American Dream” while allowing the elite to buy elections “legally”. We might have an abysmal level of social mobility; if you’re poor you’ll stay poor, if you’re rich you’ll stay rich. Race is continuing stain that will explode soon as the identity of minority and majority switch identity. We run the risk of having the minority rule, which is the recipe for revolution as is the scourge of inequality.
America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.
― Alexis de Tocqueville
The war on terror is the epitome of our collective fear. While 9/11 was tragic, it shouldn’t have ever resulted in the sort of resources devoted to its response. We have lost much of our soul to it. Terror has bred terror, and America committed torture, murder and other crimes in its wake. We have sacrificed freedom and privacy in the name of fear. Terror kills very few Americans even factoring 9/11 in, or the lives of soldiers fighting overseas. Americans do a much better job of killing other Americans than terrorists be it by gunfire citizen-to-citizen or our completely and utterly out of control police force.
On top of this we have a completely out of control prison system. It has become a new day Jim Crow with its racial imbalances, and a complete lack of perspective on it terribly reflects on all of us. We destroy more lives of fellow citizens with the moronic war on drugs than the war on terror could have ever caused. The criminalization of drugs is mostly about subjugating minorities and little about public safety (alcohol is a very dangerous drug, but the drug of choice for the white power structure). The drug war isn’t about safety; it’s a replacement for Jim Crow.
I explain that Americans at the level of popular culture, at the level of grassroots politics, were thinking very hard about what it would mean to have a country they didn’t believe was God’s chosen nation. What would it mean to not be the world’s policeman? What would it mean to conserve our resources? What would it mean to not treat our presidents as if they were kings? That was happening! And the tragedy of Ronald Reagan most profoundly wasn’t policy — although that was tragic enough — but it was robbing America of that conversation. Every time a politician stands before a microphone and utters this useless, pathetic cliché that America is the greatest country ever to exist, he’s basically wiping away the possibility that we can really think critically about our problems and our prospects. And to me, that’s tragic.