The American Empire: Renewal or Ruin?

What in heaven’s name has happened to the country I grew up admiring? That is the question I’ve been asking myself over and over since the re-election of Barack Obama. While it’s easy to blame the crumbling of those principles, values and characteristics on Obama and liberal Democrats, that’s an easy way out, a little white lie we tell ourselves as a comfort mechanism. We blame it on Obama having run a campaign of distractions and outright lies to hide his failures (he did), or Romney not running an effective ground game (he didn’t) or being an eloquent spokesman for conservative principles (he wasn’t). We blame it on widespread voter fraud by Democrats (there was), or the media being complicit in protecting Obama by helping cover up the truth about scandals like Fast and Furious, or Benghazi (they were).

Yet not even those things reveal the underlying truth about the hastening erosion of what was once the foundation of American exceptionalism. We once valued hard work, honesty, fidelity in marriage, humility, and personal responsibility. We held up as men and women to be admired those who were industrious and entrepreneurial. These were traits we aimed for, even though we often fell short. Yet where are these values today? John F. Kennedy, the iconic president adored by Democrats, once exhorted us to “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” Contrast that Democrat’s pseudo-messianic figure in Obama, who shuns the call for sacrifice, for hard work, telling us we have a right to free health care, welfare checks, food stamps, and a plethora of other goodies, all paid for by taxing at ever greater levels the hated, evil rich.

And tens of millions of Americans bought into his vision to “fundamentally transform” America. Despite the scandals, despite persistently high unemployment, high gas prices, businesses failing, the bailouts of the corrupt but well-connected, despite thuggish tactics, America re-elected Obama. A man who has no time for Israel, America’s greatest ally in the Middle East powder keg, but who has time to go on ESPN to announce his March Madness picks, or to go on Letterman, or on The View to be eye candy.

How did we reach this point? We reached this point by abdicating the responsibilities which are inextricably connected with those rights we so love to talk about. We got here by heeding the siren song of a government that promises to provide for our every need, and all we have to do is give up a little liberty in exchange. We’re here because we’ve failed to take responsibility for the education of our children and grandchildren, relying instead on schools focus more on “self-esteem” and “diversity” than they do on reading, writing, and arithmetic, and just as importantly, if not more so, on teaching the history of America, and why we became the greatest political, military, and economic might the world has ever seen.

We reached this point because we no longer talk about what we should do, and talk instead about what we can do. John Adams, maybe the most underappreciated of all the Founding Fathers, once said that “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” He understood that, if we are to retain a republic, there are things which we have a right to do, but which we also have a moral obligation not to do. For when we do these things it erodes our respect for morality, which leads to the justification of ever more permissive behavior, which leads to a rejection of the traditions of civility, honor, and temperance. The more these values are eroded, the more force is required to maintain civil society.

The British statesman Edmund Burke once wrote, “Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their appetites; in proportion as they are more disposed to listen to the counsels of the wise and good in preference to the flattery of knaves. Society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere, and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.”

So where does that leave us today? It leaves us suffering the consequences of abandoning the values and traditions of our forefathers, because we arrogantly think we have become somehow so much more enlightened over the last half century that we can discard the collective wisdom of the billions of people that lived for thousands of years before us. For is that not where tradition is rooted…in the customs formed by societies as a consequence of their collective experience, handing down the lessons learned from one generation to the next?

In 1965, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the widely respected Harvard sociologist turned U.S. Senator, was working in the LBJ administration when he wrote a shocking report entitled “The Negro Family: A Case for National Action”, which revealed that the out-of-wedlock birthrate among black Americans had reached an astonishing 25%. He further warned that a failure to reverse this trend, especially in lower-income communities, would lead to an increase of social pathologies (i.e., increased criminal activity, substance abuse, unwed pregnancy, etc.). This report shocked Americans and Moynihan, a Democrat, came under intense criticism for the report.

Yet today, an unwed birth rate of 25% seems like a Leave It to Beaver dream world because, half a century later, the unwed birthrate (according to the CDC) has exploded to 73% among blacks, 53% among Hispanics, and 29% for whites. Overall, 41% of all births in America today are to unwed mothers, a national travesty. As a consequence, we’ve seen Moynihan’s warnings prove prophetic. America sees millions of its precious unborn children slaughtered in the womb, never having had a chance to take their first breath. We now have the highest incarceration rate in the world; we’ve spent trillions upon trillions of dollars on welfare programs only to see the level of institutionalized, generational poverty increase, and the family structure continue to crumble.

My liberal/libertarian friends often tell me that we can’t, nor should we try, to legislate morality, which is nonsense. Legislation is nothing more than the legal codification of accepted norms of societal morality. However, going back to Adam’s warning, it is proper to say that legislation alone is not enough to maintain social order and the morality of our civilization.

And that takes us back to where we are failing today. We lament (some of us) the re-election of Barack Obama, the “food stamp president”, the man who made this election about birth control and government handouts. Yet if we’d done our jobs as parents, we would not have produced tens of millions of voters foolish enough to follow this Pied Piper of Pandering. If we’d done our jobs as parents, Americans would cherish our freedoms AND the entailing responsibilities, we’d live within our means, and we’d reject the charlatans who promise a free lunch earned by another’s labor. We’d cherish the values that made America great. We can no longer rely on the schools (and never should have in the first place) to teach our children correct principles. What we see today is a direct indictment of parents and churches who have failed to produce citizens of integrity and intellect. Many who suffer from their poor decisions do so because they know no better, like sickly children who keep drinking polluted water.

The America of generations past was not perfect, and especially in the context of racial equality failed to live up to our highest ideals. However, let us not completely discard the wisdom of those that came before simply because they were imperfect. If they were completely flawed, we would not have attained such heights.

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