Updated: May 23, 2015
It should be no great surprise to any of us that America is not the country it once was- and I mean that with as little hyperbole as possible. It’s not that we’ve lost our values or that people “just aren’t as honest as they used to be” but rather something far more sinister: We’ve become our own worst enemy.
I’ll explain. You see, back in the days of the Cold War, the United States profited and excelled more-so than any other time in its history. Why? Because we were united against a prominent, legitimate threat: the Russians. The same goes for when we fought the Germans in World Wars One and Two, as well as every major conflict we’ve ever had with another nation. But for this article we’ll focus on the Cold War as a point of reference.
Most Americans (including politicians, although you’ll be forgiven for discounting them as one of our own) understood that we needed to work together in order to improve as a country and as a people. We understood that to improve is to change, and to perfect is to change often. We were not afraid to find common ground with each other, even if it meant accepting someone else’s idea over our own.
A golden example of what I’m talking about can be found in the relationship between Ronald Reagan and Tip O’nell, the Speaker of the House during Reagan’s administration. Both men were extremists in their respective parties (by the standards of their time) and yet more often than not they were able to keep the lines of communication open in order to get things done professionally. Can you picture Obama picking up the phone at the end of the day to give John Boehner a call (or vice versa) so they can discuss issues as equals rather than political rivals? I didn’t think so.
The reason for this is simple. In the 1980’s we were still grappling with a formidable foreign threat (i.e. Russia) instead of small groups of radical extremists with no official country, army, or constitution, as we are today. But more on that in a future post. The main point I want to emphasize here is this: Without a prominent and legitimate threat from overseas, the only real danger America will face is from within.
In the absence of a unifying threat, Republicans and Democrats wage war on each other instead of coming together to protect America’s interests. The gridlock in Congress is at a record high, while their approval rating is at an all-time low. And the craziest part? Americans want it this way. Oh sure, the average voter may say that Congress is unbearable, but when asked specifically about their congressman, people say that he/she is doing a good job. The problem lies in the statistics: 91% of the 113th congress were re-elected to their positions in the last election cycle – this is unacceptable for a legislative body that holds the record for the least amount of legislation passed in congressional history.
The one thing to remember from all this is politicians are only as good as the people who elect them. If we wanted congressmen and women who work together rather than those that rigidly cling to the narrow agenda of their constituents, we would elect them. But we don’t. We like them as they are. The sobering truth is, our politicians won’t improve until we do. And neither will this country.
The inspiration for this article came from the spot-on opening scene of The Newsroom, a brilliant show on HBO. Credit to YouTube and Brian Powell for the link: