America from its very beginnings was a noble experiment. George Washington once said,”The preservation of the sacred fire of liberty and the destiny of the republican model of government, are justly considered, perhaps, as deeply, as finally staked on the experiment intrusted to the hands of the American people.” Are we as a people failing the trust that was put upon us by our founding leaders?
President Reagan used to refer to the United States as that shining city on the hill. He would quote part of a sermon by John Winthrop given in 1630. The sermon spoke of what was needed by the pioneers on board their ship if they were to survive the tribulations of their voyage to America. It was a message of hope. He stated,” Now the only way to avoid this shipwreck and to provide for our posterity …we must knit together in this work as one man, we must entertain each other in brotherly affection, we must be willing to abridge ourselves of our superfluities for the supply of others’ necessities, we must uphold a familiar commerce together in all meekness, gentleness, patience and liberality, we must delight in each other, make others’ conditions our own, rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together.”
We’ve come along ways from that prayerful hope. Our divisions and differences now, highlight the crisis of conscience that our nation now faces. A conscience is an inner feeling or voice viewed as a guide to the rightness or wrongness of one’s behavior. Our crisis of conscience speaks to a struggle over right and wrong and the weakness of our moral code.
We must first acknowledge that we have two major problems that we need to face and take responsibility for. One is that we are a violent nation and two that we have to deal with the income inequality that our nation has. If we are to deal with our problems we must listen to our inner voice, and acknowledge and take responsibility for what is wrong with our society and to right what is wrong if we are to maintain a civil society.
America was first settle by colonists from Europe and with their arrival they brought with them their cultural backgrounds. They faced a new world, raw and far different than what they had known. Not long after our arrival the holocaust began against whom we called savages. The sorry history of what we did to the Native Americans does not need to be repeated but our violent behavior was part of it.
The fact that later we brought slaves to America did not help for with our history of slavery violence was inherently involved with the tragic victims of slavery as well. Our actions taken against slaves and Native Americans established a tradition of violence.
Jefferson spoke of the unconscious affects on us by the very fact that slavery existed. He said,” The whole commerce between master and slave, is a perpetual exercise of the most boisterous passions, the most unremitting despotism on one part, and degrading submissions on the other …..The parent storms, the child looks on, catches the lineaments of wrath, puts on the same airs in the circle of smaller slaves, gives a loose to the worst of passions, and thus nursed, educated, and daily exercised in tyranny, cannot but be stamped with its odious peculiarities. The man must be a prodigy who can retain his manners and moral undepraved by such circumstances.”
Jefferson worried whether or not the former slave master and the former slave could ever live together in peace. We never seem to want to discuss the problems of race, that exists now in our country.
Slavery has had a long term effect on our society long after slavery was formerly ended. There is still in the rural regions of the South, the stubborn refusal to change the societal norms of the past, as they have sought to maintain their superiority over the former slaves.
As evidence of the pervasiveness of the slave master attitude was Former Governor Sarah Palin’s use of the terms “Shuckin, and Jivin,” in reference to President Obama’s actions in Libya.
Colin Powell referred to her comments when he said,” When we see a former governor say that the president is “shuckin” and “jivin”— that’s a racial-era slave term. Let me be just candid: My party is full of racists and the real reason a considerable portion of my party wants President Obama out of the White House has nothing to do with the content of his character, nothing to do with his competence as Commander-In-Chief and President and everything to do with the color of his skin, and that’s despicable.”
Violence has been part of our tradition and it still is part of our daily existence. The FBI issued a report in 2011, which showed statistics on violence in America. Killings by gun were over 12,000 and deaths by knife made up 38% of the total. Other countries in the industrial world have a much lower rate of deaths by gun and knives.
The trust or the lack of trust between the Police and large segments of our population has been in the headlines every day, lately.
There are many excuses or reasons given for our being a violent society. One old and popular reason is that we are a young nation still a product of the frontier mentality and life style. A convenient excuse but why don’t Canada and Australia have similar homicide rates?
The stress and anxiety that modernity gives us is given as a reason. The pressures created to keep up with the fast and constant changes that are taking place give us all reason to have fear and anxiety but never the less other modern industrial societies also face similar pressures but do not have the violence that we have.
Neither of these two logical reasons can explain why our numbers are so different than other countries.
Racial conflict is another reason given. But why have we taken a problem of adjustment and turned it into more confrontational situations?
Some blame television violence and permissiveness and others a lack of gun laws.
At least one can argue that the lack of gun laws is a contributing factor. One constant for the other former frontier countries is that they have strong gun laws.
Some blame Capitalism! Income inequality and the fear of whether one will have enough money to provide for not only oneself but for a person’s family undoubtedly contributes to the societal problems that we face. Fear creates the atmosphere where a person wants to blame someone for the problems that they have.
The one incongruity that is hard to make sense of is the saying Guns and the Bible. We don’t live in a civil society where an eye for an eye is acceptable. But God help us if we threaten to enact laws that would make it possible to deprive criminals from obtaining guns at a gun show, or if we would like to keep guns out of the hands of mentally unstable people.
The greatest danger to democracy today may very well be the fear that is tangible regarding the the exponents of the use of terror from the fringe extremists who profess to be followers of Islam.
There is the very real possibility that many citizens may be convinced to give up their liberty in return for security. The promise of security has been given by many wan-a- be dictators. In return citizens of the world have gotten in return neither liberty nor safety but rather despotism and tyranny.
If you at least are willing to recognize that you have a problem than you are on the way to solving it. What is wanted is that realization that we are a violent society and to work to diminish the violence. You can never get rid of it entirely but the goal should be to reduce violence as much as possible without giving up the freedoms and liberty that we in our society have.
A moral code and a determination to fix the problem is a start. We do need to use our inner voice and do our best to do what we know is right and to make it less possible to do wrong. We do have a crisis of conscience. We must have the determination to sustain and enhance our community. We are as a nation a quilt of many colors and cultures. The needs of the few need to take a back seat to the needs of the nation and we the people. We must do this so that we may fulfill our promise as a nation and to continually work to make the experiment that George Washington talked about a success.