WASHINGTON — Before we get obsessed with the personalities, foibles, fund-raising skills and possibly passionate positions of the many politicians running for president, let’s take a moment to figure out what kind of country we want the United States to be.
Because it is, you know, changing and many of those changes are dramatic.
Before World War II, there was a powerful wave of isolationism in America. As the rest of the world spun out of control, millions of Americans wanted nothing to do with the chaos, misery and evil stalking far-away shores. But those forces were too powerful, and we, too, were pulled into the melee.
After two horrific world wars and later, with the always present nightmare of nuclear war haunting us, we thought we had learned important lessons about building one world, lessons about getting along with enemies and making society better and more full of opportunities.
Now we are back in a world where millions want to shut out others, where intolerance and dislike and fear of those who have different cultures rule. Where we have ours, and you stay away from us.
We are plagued by children without enough food or medicine or education. We have new epidemics with names such as Ebola. We have billionaires and celebrities who flaunt great wealth and buy their children’s way into prestigious universities while others work two or three jobs and can’t make ends meet or afford health care.
The sun has gone down on the once shining city on the hill, and the candles inside are flickering. Even worse, millions are bored, uninformed, uncaring, jaded or trying to divert the dreariness with drugs or food or consumerism or mindless entertainment. Or they are enjoying the bumpy ride of a buffoonish cartoon character laying waste to the known landscape.
We may be at one of those points in history where it’s hard to see the forest for the trees.
When somebody murders dozens of men, women and children in a place of worship and cites the president of the United States as his inspiration, we need to refocus.
When dozens of people connected with that president are indicted or convicted or under investigation or have pleaded guilty of malfeasance of one sort or another and we have grown numb, we need to rethink our values.
When the richest among us are given everything they need to make more money, at the expense of everyone else, we should be outraged.
When this country no longer incessantly demands human rights for everyone down the street or around the world, we should wonder if we are in moral peril.
When we have years of outright lies, disrespect for and ridicule of other domestic and world leaders, a rude shunting away of courtesy, tradition, a shredding of treaties and normal behavior and blurted out threats of war and chaos, we must ask, “Is this who we want to be? Is it too late?”
At some point we have to say, this is not just one person causing this shredding of our sense of selves and values, this is on many of us.
Those who didn’t vote. Those who laughed and enjoyed the drama, bingeing on the collapse of our institutions. Those who turned away from children in cages, muttering “those aren’t real cages.” Those who wanted others to feel the same pain and loss and hardship they do. Those who are so angry at the system they’d rather see it torn down than built back up, better than it was. Those who feel affronted at somebody else’s gender or skin color or religion or country of origin. Those who (mistakenly) believe this was always a white country and should always be one. Those who stopped doing their jobs the best they could because what was the point? Those who have given up.
In autocracies and dictatorships and monarchies, sometimes there is no choice for years or decades or generations, no chance to reverse course or change.
Fortunately, we live in America. We control our fate. We get chances to correct our mistakes. It’s noisy and messy and expensive and frustrating. But, usually, eventually, it works. All we have to do is care enough and not stick our heads in the sand.
Ann McFeatters is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service. Readers may send her email at email@example.com.