Once upon a time, those most critical of the direction of the United States were of the political left. The issue might be war, poverty, racism, meddling in the affairs of other countries — or all of the above.
The reaction to this criticism from those on the political right often was: (name of critic) "hates America." Another refrain, dating back to the Vietnam War was, "America: love it or leave it."
Now, things have come to an interesting and ironic turn. For those most critical of our national direction are of the political right. The prime example is of course Donald Trump with his "make America great again" rhetoric. Apparently, eight years of an African American president, and a Democrat to boot, have drained America of its greatness.
Ironically, the very rise of Trump — with his bombast, racial and religious scapegoating, and lack of any realistic plans to achieve his policy goals — embodies what is most troubling about the United States in 2015: the constriction of the American spirit. Too many of us have become selfish, narcissistic, hypocritical and fearful.
If we have lost our way, it is because of our constricted national spirit. We have become passive, happy to let volunteers fight our wars for 14 years since Sept. 11, 2001 — as long, of course, as no one raises our taxes.
A deranged man can storm into a Connecticut school and kill 20 kids and six educators and we as a nation change nothing. We regularly have mass shootings by disaffected white males — and even half of our "lone-wolf" or small-group terrorist incidents are by internal right-wing terrorists (ex. the murder of eight churchgoers in Charleston, S.C., this summer by a young racist.) Yet, passive before this violence within, we become obsessed with and terrified of a series of perceived existential threats from outside:
In recent months these so-called threats — ginned up by FOX and its friends — have included ebola from Africa, then women and children fleeing north to the U.S. from Central America and Mexico, and now half the nation is cowering before a relatively tiny number (10,000) of highly vetted, mostly women and children, fleeing from the violence of Syria. Even France, victim of the ISIS terrorist atrocity in Paris, will be taking 30,000 of these refugees, people who are also fleeing the violence of ISIS.
Part of our current spiritual malaise includes not taking responsibility for anything. Yet, the rise of ISIS and resulting refugee crisis is partly the fault of the United States. Our reckless invasion of Iraq in 2003, including the disbanding of the Iraqi Army, produced chaos and led to the unholy alliance of radical Islamists and unemployed and disaffected former Iraqi army personnel that produced ISIS. The other major factor, of course, was the extremely repressive and violent Assad regime in Syria
We are in a period of national hysteria. In many ways this is understandable, if regrettable. There are several real threats and challenges facing us and in some cases the path to solutions aren't clear at all. The sheer number and weight of them can seem unbearable.
These threats and challenges include climate change; growing income and opportunity inequality which is hitting average Americans hard; continued racial strife embodied in highly publicized clashes and violence; the regular occurrence of mass shootings; an ongoing state of war abroad; the threat of international terrorism seemingly as bad as ever, even after 14 years of war to end it; and the pressure of immigrants and refugees, legal or otherwise, seeking to come here for a better life.
We are at a crisis point, but crises present opportunities and pose questions to those facing them. Do we want to take the path of small-mindedness, resentment, scapegoating and fear? Or do we want to be the America of broad shoulders and big heart, a "city on a hill," a beacon to the downtrodden and a symbol of freedom and nobility?