Sharing my response to an interesting question posted by Dan Rather on Facebook…
Carl B. Forkner, Ph.D.
NOTE: When reading this, you may have a different opinion and I respect that. I only ask that you respect my opinion as well. This has nothing to do with party lines—I support the right people regardless of party and know both good and bad exists on both sides of the aisle (frankly, “the aisle” is a big part of the problem). We are now living the in a time predicted by George Washington, who warned us of the evils of party politics and their impact in destroying our Constitutional Republic, as well as Benjamin Franklin’s words after the Constitutional Convention—“we gave you a republic…if you can keep it.”
To take the broader perspective–instead of the typical partisan hyperbole found in most comments–the last quarter century has seen a strategic-level shift in America that adversely affected Constitutional balances at the grassroots level, acting like cancer that has metastasized both horizontally and vertically in American culture.
To examine the strategic shift, go back 75 years to the early period of America’s direct involvement in WW2. The country came together for a cause, were most often willing—and understanding—about setting aside personal liberties and desires for the common good (a Hobbes v. Locke example) and civic virtue (a la Cincinnatus and George Washington). Fast forward 10-15 years and we saw a swing in the balance of natural rights and statutory protections v. a greater focus on the perceived common good during the Korean War and McCarthy era—a negative swing.
Move ahead again and we find the first time that *real* personal wealth helped put a family member in the presidency, with Joseph Kennedy funding and using influence to ensure John F. Kennedy’s election in 1960, as well as JFK’s move to appoint his brother, Robert, to Attorney General—a cabinet-level post. That being said, one must also use the counterpoint that JFK was not the business-centric leader that was his father; rather, his poignant words spoken in the January 1961 inaugural speech “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” set the stage for a rebalancing of the natural rights v. common good dichotomy into complementary principles—a balance that would set the stage for the next decade of prosperity, innovation, and social progress. He was the principle architect of what became the Civil Right Act of 1964 (which Johnson adeptly convinced Congress to pass) and a strategic mindset of putting “a man on the moon by the end of the decade.”
Although not a perfect time in America, one must realize that nearly two centuries of learning how to manage our Constitutional Republic that relies on participatory citizens when all citizens are not afforded constitutional rights takes more than one administration—or one decade—to change. From the Emancipation Proclamation to the post-Civil War Amendments (13, 14, 15), to their virtual abandonment in the South following the Compromise of 1877 that put Rutherford B. Hayes in the Presidency, it would be a century before the Kennedy/Johnson administration would make meaningful stride in civil rights, boosted by such great leaders as Martin Luther King, Jr., following in the steps of non-violent social action implemented in the post-Civil War era by Frederick Douglass. I grew up in the North (although I have many Southern roots) and in the 1960’s where I did not have Black, Hispanic, or Asian friends—I just had friends and skin color or historical ethnicity was irrelevant. In fact, it was not until 1973 that I actually experienced racial division and hatred first-hand and, perhaps naively, why the change was happening—and so close to home.
But, Americans got the points made by JFK—they saved toward long-term goals, invested in their children’s futures, and found ways to serve [other than the military] in opportunities that Johnson implemented after JFK’s death—Peace Corps, Jobs Corps, and other opportunities that were promoted to help one’s community, one’s nation, and one’s self. Balancing that, however, were additional “entitlement” programs put on by Johnson and Congress, including additional stress on the Social Security system that funded people who had never nor ever would contribute to that system, and others. Vietnam escalated in 1965—and again in 1968—but I never understood the disdain that people had for soldiers coming home from the war. For many, they were drafted and had no choice. It was a wedge that disturbed the momentum of progress [and it has only been in the last quarter century that Vietnam Veterans have been looked upon with honor and thanked for their sacrifices].
Then there was the 1980’s, riding the great recession of the late 1970’s and a new wave of patriotism and national pride under President Reagan that had not been seen since Kennedy’s leadership two decades prior. The degree of the decade seemed to be thousands rushing to get MBAs to take advantage of the new boom and get their piece of the action (unknowingly, however, flooding the market with MBAs, which would come back to haunt them in the 1990’s). America was strong again in the world landscape and starting to again prosper. The Cold War was won, Iraq was pushed back out of Kuwait in only 100 days, and genocide was stopped in the Balkans after the disintegration of Tito’s Yugoslavia. America made new friends and allies, diplomatically, militarily, and economically. President Clinton made great strides with Newt Gingrich and Congress, having learned the valuable lesson in teamwork and productivity demonstrated by President Reagan and Tip O’Neill a decade prior. We started to have a surplus in the annual budget and started paying down the national debt. However, this was a time that the aforementioned flooding of MBAs came back to bite many middle managers, as the technology revolution provided efficiencies that negated the need for large pools of manpower…and what is still a challenge—as technology continues to outpace career preparation and traditional learning…
The attacks on 9/11 happened and America was again having to defend itself…but against what nation? What armed forces? What uniforms? Obviously, we have all experienced or read about the attacks, investigations, etc.,. From the mid-1990’s the warnings were there. During the Clinton era, the dramatic downsizing of our military—especially the intelligence services—resulted in the directed prioritization of intelligence information that did not include the signs of the impending operation that would destroy the World Trade Center—and thousands of lives. It again put America in a place that we started to fall into the traps of the McCarthy era, looking at anyone who appeared Arab as a threat, beating or killing Arabic people for the color of their ethnicity—even though they were American citizens, and starting to roll back any progress that had been made in civil rights over the last half-century. Riding this wave, the response to the attacks on the WTC and Pentagon—and foiled attack over Pennsylvania—made easier the military campaign into Afghanistan that started on October 7, 2001, at 6:13 pm Kabul time.
In 2003, we attacked and deposed Saddam Hussein which, in narrow scope, seemed beneficial but in the long view enabled groups like ISIS/ISIL to develop relatively unchecked because the democratic form of government implemented in Iraq—exacerbated by Paul Bremer’s mismanagement of the process—left an ineffective central government to manage the country. In both the cases of Afghanistan and Iraq, we still find ourselves embedded in those turmoils as well as the spread of radical Islam across the globe. America is viewed as weak in the eyes of the world, especially after capitulation to Iran that enabled their nuclear program to continue once again, as well as a perception among global leaders that America has lost integrity and its will. This was demonstrated by the continued lack of threatened response to the crisis in Syria and enabled Russia’s President Vladimir Putin to rise to a position of global recognition and influence not seen since the Soviet state during the Cold War.
In the last decade, we have experienced some renewal of the focus on civil rights and opportunity for all citizens. However, again we have had a divergence from constitutional principles and philosophies that have damaged America, as the pendulum swung from a “common good” position, well past the balance point, to an overemphasis on individual liberties and a new cancer we call “political correctness” that has fomented increased division in America as well as an economic crisis brought on my government overspending, increased taxes, and an illegal immigrant problem that defies constitutional and statutory boundaries…and stretches even thinner our constrained resources. We need to return to a respect for rule of law in order to bring swing the pendulum back to a balanced state.
Societal changes have complicated America’s continued development as a nation as well. The last 40+ years of self-focused mindset have virtually eliminated the concepts of communities, congregations, and the school-parent-community partnership that made America great in the post-WW2 era through the 1960’s. Americans are no longer as willing to contribute to the common good as in the past, promoting instead a focus on only those who are like-minded to their way of thinking. Collegial debate has given way to violent confrontation. Respect for boundaries has given way to finding a way to blame others for one’s inappropriate activity. We need real information and data—not the misinformation provided on the Internet or American mainstream media (yes, that includes Fox as well as CNN, MSNBC, and all the other sensationalism and dissent promoters) and more personal reading and insight to find out reality.
America today is like the first American basketball “Dream Team” in the Olympics—they were beaten by what should have been an inferior opponent because there was not an American team on the floor—there were five American individuals. We need to become more like the 1980 “Dream Team” in hockey that banded together toward a common goal and accomplished what people said could not be done when they defeated the Soviet Union’s state-funded team for the gold medal. To do that, we need strategic thinking and planning—more like the Chinese (25/50/75/100-year plans) and less short-term planning built around presidential and congressional election cycles.
I summarize with another quote from John F. Kennedy–a quote which I believe rings true, especially in today’s contentious, divided American culture:
Together, we are greater than the sum of the individuals who comprise American citizenry. We just need to start acting like it…