Our Politics Should Be As Good As Our Ideals

The United States is a nation comprised of over 318 million people. So why do we have so few competent political leaders who can express ideas and thoughts coherently? I am genuinely ashamed at what passes for political discourse. The rambling and ranting of the presidential candidates just makes me sad. When did invective and middle school taunts become substitutes for policy and ideas? When did outlandish statements without a scintilla of evidence become facts? Where did honor and decency go in our political process?

We, as citizens, have accepted this corruption of our politics. Most have opinions but few even exercise their obligation to vote (31 out of 34 OECD nations). The Republicans are on the precipice of anointing a demagogue as our presidential candidate. The Democrats are recycling someone that has been a hair away from indictment for thirty years. One preaches an ideology of hate and divisiveness in the guise of American greatness while the other speaks in the hackneyed clichés of the 20th century. Is this the best the United States can now do?

A mere 240 years ago, we declared our independence and modern democracy was born. Are we now approaching a time when America is assigned to the “dustbin of history?” Because of geography, timing and ingenuity, the United States rose to be an economic and military dynamo unsurpassed in history. But other empires, nations and states have risen and fallen through self-inflicted and self-indulgent damage.

In his seminal work “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” (coincidentally Volume I was published in 1776), Edward Gibbon’s outlines five traits signifying Rome’s decay:

1) Concern with displaying affluence instead of building wealth;

2) Obsession with sex and perversions of sex;

3) Art becomes freakish and sensationalistic instead of creative and original;

4) Widening disparity between very rich and very poor;

5) Increased demand to live off the state.

Seventy years ago at the end of World War II, the U.S. was at its zenith. The rest of the world lay in ruin. The economic and military might of Britain, France, Germany and Russia were hollow fictions after two devastating wars in less than 30 years. It was America’s time to be a colossus. While we were at our powerful peak, an inevitable corruption had begun to invade our political body.

The sacrifices that we as individuals, families and as a people endured to make the next generations more prosperous ended. An American type of “bread and circuses” evolved as government and individuals spent tomorrow’s resources to satisfy today’s wants but not needs. People were encouraged to save for nothing and buy everything mostly on credit. Our entertainment devolved into self-absorption as evidenced by “selfies” and “reality television.”

Fame is considered more important than true accomplishment. Facts are no longer needed and are routinely denigrated if they contradict one’s own puerile beliefs. Competency and experience are viewed with disdain and as a limiting factor in advancement. A person displays bravery by bravado with no true action needed. Every fire fighter is a hero, all government employees are public servants and no one in today’s America should be held accountable for their errors. America is now where the leading Republican candidate for the presidency can state with a straight face that he is a military expert because he attended a military prep school over fifty years ago.

Americans need to stop longing for a glorious past. We need to work for an unlimited future. The nation has fundamental truths as espoused by our founders that we should embrace. Our American principles are not altered by our changing demographics. Trying to turn the clock back to recapture an ideal that in reality was a phantasmagorical scene is fruitless. The richness of the future can be and is superior to longing for a supposed storied past. Demonizing people and looking for scape goats will not bring prosperity.

America’s greatest strengths have always been to adopt new ideas, absorb new immigrants and adapt to changing circumstances. We are still the nation that others look to for leadership. We need to elect a president who wants to govern by our ideals not by prejudices and through dissension. America is still great because of our truths. We need to stop the pity party, roll up our sleeves and get back to the hard work needed for our nation to flourish.