I’m not sure why people insist on thinking that our current political environment is the worst ever, but it isn’t.
Strongly held beliefs were not just invented when Barack Obama was elected — and whether you look at the founding of our country or any significant decision point since, what you are most likely to find is a nation that struggles mightily to come to consensus, and oftentimes fails to do so.
Remember that only a third of the original colonists were also revolutionaries, so even from the start we were a nation divided. That hasn’t ever really ended, and if you think that observation conflicts with Lincoln’s famous dictum that “A house divided against itself cannot stand,” then you are taking the very short view of history.
Lincoln was right, but he didn’t provide a timetable. Neither did Jesus, who originated the phrase in Mark 3:25. But whether it takes 10 years or 50 — like some civil wars — or fully a thousand years like the decline of the Roman empire, it is indisputable that failure to find common ground will inevitably result in collapse and chaos. This is not just idle speculation; it is moral law.
Of course, I suppose that sounds like a death knell for our American republic, which is divided today under President Obama, just as it was divided 10 years ago under President Bush, but there may be an antidote available against political division — it’s just a bitter pill for some to swallow.
I found a reference to this cure on an editorial page in the Daily Inter Lake from 50 years ago. It was the same page where Montana’s Gov. Donald Nutter was lauded for his posthumous speech blasting the United Nations, socialism and communism. In fact, there were several references to this cure on the opinion page from Feb. 11, 1962, most colorfully in a small reprint from Life Lines magazine titled “Miracle Drug of Patriotism.” Here it is, in full:
“There is a wonder drug that will work miracles for the spirit of America. It is patriotism — patriotism pure and simple. It is a national disgrace — an individual disgrace as well — if strong men can be made weak and compromising by the collective efforts of those in our society who wish to gain from less effort, less principle, more timidity, more ‘something for nothing.’ This is the spirit — lack of spirit is a better term — that can cause our nation to be less productive, less effective, more fearful of conflict, more ready to compromise and even for defeat.
“But the miracle drug of patriotism can work wonders here! This is the drug that is being discovered by many Americans — and, happily, many young men and women among them. This wonder drug gives rise to pro-Americanism. It sweeps aside the cobwebs of mistaken thinking. It gives our people hope for the future — their future — the future that can be for America.
“Now is the time, if ever, for unabashed patriotism, for unapologetic patriotism that holds America high in the world. We can win for freedom if we will but make the necessary effort.”
It is obvious without any further context that the author of this prescription was already somewhat demoralized, just as many of us are today, and just as Gov. Nutter was when he wrote in 1962 that “through selfishness, greed, complacency and apathy, we can cancel out all of the sacrifices made by us, by our fathers and our forefathers... and ... drift away from our great heritage.”
Yet there appeared to be — even in the middle of the Cold War, when communism was at its most terrifying pinnacle worldwide — an answer to everything that could destroy us, an answer in the form of this so-called “miracle drug of patriotism.”
The enemy, mind you, was not Russian communism, or Chinese communism. Thanks to Truman and Eisenhower and Kennedy, those had been put in their place. Yet, even in 1962, the most dangerous enemy of America was an enemy within — an enemy that worked without guns or missiles to reshape the nation into a place where “strong men can be made weak and compromising by the collective efforts of those in our society who wish to gain from less effort, less principle, more timidity, more ‘something for nothing.’”
I don’t know about you, but these are words that still speak to me. They are not just an historic footnote, but rather a prophecy. I do believe that this enemy has already succeeded at making our nation “less productive, less effective, more fearful of conflict, more ready to compromise and even for defeat.”
Yet the answer is not surrender. The answer is education and Socratic questioning. Do you, does anyone, really want the weaker America of “less effort, less principle [and] more timidity”? Heaven forbid. Yet isn’t that what we have wound up with?
That being the case, we are indeed in a precarious position. I’m not sure whether the “miracle drug of patriotism” can save the patient any longer. After all, a lot of our patriotic fervor these days seems to be reserved for touting that very same “something for nothing” philosophy which worried Life Lines back in 1962. And pro-Americanism these days is probably unconstitutional because it promotes a place of “national origin.” Don’t our schools and universities these days teach that all nations, all cultures, all philosophies are equal?
Yet I remain an optimist. I remain convinced that if enough good people speak the truth fearlessly, and accept the price of speaking that truth without concern for self, then eventually truth will prevail. I believe that Americanism as devised by Jefferson, Adams, Madison, Washington and those other revolutionaries is still worth living for, and worth dying for.
That doesn’t mean America itself will survive all its woes. But if Americanism cannot stand in America, then eventually it will rise on another shore. For though a house divided cannot stand, neither can truth be destroyed. It will always rise again like a phoenix out of the ashes. In the long view of history, what matters isn’t America; it is Americanism.