What Our Angry Voices Teach the Next Generation
The chaos of the holidays! I was lucky enough to spend a week down in Florida with my whole family in a house filled with almost a dozen nieces and nephews. While politics this season has been very pessimistic, children by nature are very optimistic.
Throughout the week, I pondered many of the questions and implications of today’s political dialogue. As we say goodbye to 2015, what should we know for 2016? More importantly, what will our children, the next generation of American leaders, learn about our nation from this year’s talk? The current political climate is unpleasant and awful, but that’s not the biggest problem. The biggest problem is that it’s changing our culture among young people and will render our country as just one more nation on the United Nations list between Albania and Zimbabwe.
I remember as a young man learning that America is the best hope for a world drowning in chaos. Throughout our history, good always won and our people prospered. Whether it was a revolution with all odds stacked against patriots, a civil war aimed at uniting a fragile union and freeing an entire race, generations stepping up to free Europe (twice), a generation responding to a thankless task in Vietnam, or our generation today stepping up to destroy terror, America and its citizens always prevailed. A seemingly hopeless depression led to one of the biggest periods of economic growth ever seen, and the true meaning of the “American Dream.” The bottom line? America always has and always will win.
And why shouldn’t we? The experiment of America began with that dream, and led to a revolutionary document called “The Constitution.” America is more than a nation — it is an idea, a reality, and a beacon of hope. America unites us all under certain inalienable rights and focuses on extending those opportunities to a world behind iron curtains of poverty, dictatorships, discrimination, hopelessness, hunger, and terror. Why? Because we can. We have much to be proud of and much to share because to forget that greatness would be to forget who we are as a nation.
Yet today, I am deeply concerned. The political dialogue on both sides of the aisle has increasingly focused on everything wrong with America. Watch the news, listen to the politicians, and the vast majority of what you will hear decries the end of the American dream, the end of economic competitiveness, and the end of the United States being a world leader for what is right. Less is the talk of a shining city on a hill, and more is the talk of a city that needs to be saved from its eventual demise. The political left denies our exceptionalism, and some on the right flirt with isolationism. The manner in which we discuss our future is a fine line between appeasing to make a few people happy and looking at the broader picture of what is best for the country.
This perpetual focus on what is wrong with the country is creating something far worse: our children are hearing that America is no longer what it used to be. This rhetoric is teaching them that ‘the land of opportunity’ is no more. Of course, this is ludicrous, but sometimes prophecies can be self-fulfilling. More and more, Americans are beginning to think of the world as “us vs. them” instead of “we can help them.” The callousness is dangerous and easily passes on to the innocent minds of the future generation.
I have seen the benefits first hand of American compassion. This past April, I went on a trip to Kenya, where I visited a small village to see U.S. efforts to help teach poverty stricken families how to get the most out of their resources. This information gives hope and new opportunity. During this tour, the families of the villagers surrounded our group with true admiration. In that moment, I felt immense pride for my nation. In a similar situation, on a trip to Iraq in 2014, I walked through a refugee camp in Erbil, shortly after ISIS had brutalized the population. I remember the throngs of people closing in on me desperate to tell their stories because they saw me as someone who could help, simply because I was an American. It was in that moment that I felt most conflicted. I was proud to be a representative of what symbolized hope to these people, but desperately wished I could do more.
America is a great country — no, America is the greatest country! Together we have faced challenges that some thought would be the end of this great experiment of democracy. Not only did we overcome each of these great tests, we came out stronger. Each time we went down for the ten count, we stood up and landed a knockout punch to become world heavyweight champions. What do heavyweight champions do? They embody success. They spend countless hours doing the hard work necessary to win. They pass down the tradition of that hard work and share the stories of fights won.
Shouldn’t this be the narrative we discuss? Shouldn’t our children hear from us that America’s best days are ahead and not behind? If we repeat the negative narrative over and over, eventually it becomes the norm. I would love to see my nieces and nephews observe good political debate about the challenges we face, and the ways in which we can overcome them. I would love those kids to realize just how lucky they are to be Americans and to live in the land of the free, home of the brave. This great nation is a product of the blood, sweat, and toil of many generations before us. From the Greatest Generation, like my Grandfather who served in WWII and stared down the Nazis with stories too terrible to share, to my generation, who I served with in the war on terror, many of whom continue to nurse the wounds both external and internal…yet still stand up with pride when the national anthem plays. These are the heroes we need to honor. These are the stories we need to be sharing with future generations. These are the virtues upon which our country was built, and upon which we should continue to uphold.
The new year is here. Hug your children tighter and tell them the great stories of American patriots. Instill in them the responsibilities they have to pass this torch on, and remember: You are an American. You deserve a political dialogue that solves problems and serves as a reminder about the greatness of our nation. Because this is no longer about us. This is about the future history books. Will we be the generation that says the work is too hard, the hill is too steep, and we are too weary? Or will we be the fighter, the hero, that as the ten count comes to an end, stands up and lands the knockout punch for the highlight reel?
Our children need to believe that they live in the greatest country in the world, too. Let’s rise to the occasion.