Vail Daily letter: Dumbed down
Vail, CO, Colorado
The signs are everywhere. The American public and politic has embraced the celebration of its ignorance. Call this the dumbing down of America. We are now in the lame brain, oops, I mean lame duck session of Congress — a period that exists until the new members of Congress are seated in January and the vanquished are thrown out.
We then evolve to the grid-locked session of Congress. This is a two-year exercise of the mute button on your remote and tossing the unread editorial pages into the fireplace kindling box unless you enjoy listening to the Dems and Repubs blame each other about why nothing is getting done.
True to our dumbing down, each side will take credit for saving our citizens from the agenda of the other side, and the public will respond with further polarization.
Now, there may be events that get us out of this trance, like North Korea and South Korea going to war or the discovery of hard evidence of why the Mayan calendar ends on Dec. 21, 2012.
The 2010 midterm elections highlighted a movement based in part on anti-intellectualism and anti-science. The conservative right determined that the enemy were the elites, who turned out not to be the rich but the educated. Attacks against elites became a primary rallying point for Sarah Palin and the Tea Party movement. The elites, they claim, are leading us down a path to socialism and yes, even Marxism. The rich bastions of capitalism from which they made their fortunes (including inheritances) are in fact the pillars of our independence from government interference and regulation and the champions of anti-taxation fervor.
There is a strategic logic to this. The United States not long ago had one of the most educated populations on the planet. We’re not now even in the top 10 in almost every measure used to evaluate a country’s level of education. Why try to appeal to a shrinking and intellectually curious and questioning element of the population when the minds of the uneducated and easily duped are there for the taking? So much easier to claim that our fall from grace is due to a lack of Christian faith and from our departure from family values.
Anti-elitism enthusiasts have also adopted an additional concept, extraordinary exceptionalism, a doctrine that relies on the unique history of the United States, its Puritan origins and the character of its people to proclaim that the United States is unlike any other country and whose virtues cannot be duplicated by any other country.
The concept of America being exceptional was originally touted by Alexis de Tocqueville in this work “Democracy in America.” There is plenty of evidence to support a belief that America is indeed an exceptional country and has much of which to be proud. The danger is when our patriotism borders on excessive nationalism, a lesson learned the hard way leading up to and during World War II Germany.
The extreme right attacked President Obama early in his presidency when he acknowledged, to international audiences, mistakes made by the United States over the course of its history. This was immediately cast as un-American, unpatriotic and appearing weak to our enemies. Because of his early demonstration of some humility, Obama remains very popular outside the United States, and despised by the ultra conservatives within it.
So what is the takeaway here? My country right or wrong? My country, love it or leave it? Do we have a new face on the Ugly American?
I find it strange that attributes that make America great in the minds of its own citizens (such as humility, teamwork, decency, honesty, etc.) are themselves derided as un-American when put on public display in admitting that we weren’t and aren’t perfect.
I’m also suspicious of all of the “wave the flag” books written by politicians when they are contemplating running for office. Wasn’t U.S. history a mandatory course for graduation from high school? It is, but politicians are not adverse from applying their own spin.
We are a nation divided, and I see no forces in motion that will change our destiny. Much improved education would be an obvious and logical choice, but we are moving in the opposite direction. The citizenry that made our country what it is are long since dead.
I’m tired of hearing the mantra “if it’s not written in the Constitution then it’s unconstitutional.” BS! Our founding fathers were very wise men who had a particular reference point (England). They put their best thoughts on paper and formed a nation around it. It has served us well, but that document is almost two and one half centuries old.
The literal Constitution has become like an anchor. Raise it and we drift, keep it imbedded and we don’t move, and move we must. Why? Because the physical planet we live on is moving and shifting and countries on it are evolving at an accelerating pace.
Our rallying cry should not be take our country back, but take our country forward! We are painfully unprepared for the future — unless you believe the Mayan calendar signals the end of the earth, in which case it won’t matter.
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