Ronald Reagan proudly boasted that the United States was a “shining city on a hill,” a beacon of peace and freedom that beckoned to the world. But, if that was ever true, it certainly isn’t today. America has lost its place as a respected and trusted world leader. Enemies and allies alike point to us as an example of how quickly a progressive democracy can be transformed into a failing autocracy. Americans are turning on each other with vigor and viciousness.
Do you think I am exaggerating, that I am elevating a mere political squabble between the right and left into an existential crisis? If so, consider the following facts.
The President of the United States has been impeached for inciting an insurrection in which five people died. The third ranking Republican in the House of Representatives told her colleagues, “there has never been a greater betrayal by a president of his office and his oath to the Constitution” than the words and actions of President Trump.
Soldiers in the Capitol
Trump and his Republican enablers in the House and Senate have sought to convince the American people that our election system is corrupt, thus unleashing violent mobs of marauders. The nation’s Capitol is filed with arms-bearing soldiers dressed in battle fatigues while the insurrectionists plot another assault.
The blindfolds worn by many white Americans have been stripped away and our pervasive, imbedded racism is apparent to everyone but neanderthal white supremacists.
And, there is more: Four thousand Americans a day are dying from a pandemic, and the total number of victims since January 2020 is nearing 400,000; the Senate Majority Leader successfully blocked funds desperately needed by states to effectively deliver vaccinations into the arms of Americans; Covid -19 deniers continue referring to the disease as a fraud, a hoax; many Republican members of Congress refuse to wear a mask on the House floor, even though increasing numbers of their colleagues have contracted the virus.
And there is more: Our children and grandchildren have suffered through a year of inadequate education which will have lasting consequences for them and our society; the nation’s shameful economic inequality gap is widening, and hunger is an escalating crisis. In the last four years America has gone from a highly respected world leader in combating climate change to an international pariah, denying scientific experts and dismantling the nation’s commitments to environmental sanity.
And, there is more: Unemployment continues to expand with nearly one million people filing for assistance last week and the need for a government response is urgent. The Covid vaccine rollout has been botched by inadequate planning, poor leadership and lack of funding from the national level. This, too, needs immediate attention.
And, even more: Too many Americans are suffering fr0m hunger and are on the verge of losing their homes. They need help immediately. Schools are starved for resources and an immediate infusion of funds is required to get children back into the classrooms. Too many small businesses are going out of busines because of Covid-related shutdowns. Immediate financial assistance is needed, or the owners will lose their businesses and cities and towns will lose the cornerstones of their economies. Our national infrastructure is decaying and becoming a danger. This, too, needs immediate attention.
No, I was not exaggerating. We have lost the respect of the world, and even worse we have lost much of our self-respect.
Meanwhile, on January 20 Joseph Robinette Biden will be inaugurated as the 46th President of the United States and will assume responsibility for this briar patch of crises. His transition was hampered by Trump administration obstruction and he will step into a cauldron of boiling-hot urgent issues. Nevertheless, he must hit the ground running and he has an immediate need for members of his team to clear the confirmation hurdles in a fractious Senate and get to work.
Biden will take office at a time when our national debate on almost every issue has become polarized and vicious, and every problem requires an immediate response. As Peter Baker wrote in Thursday’s New York Times, “…the country has fractured deeply and lost a sense of itself. Notions of truth and reality have been atomized. Faith in the system has ended. Anger is the one common ground…. Washington has devolved into a miasma of suspicion and conflict.”
Yet, I do believe—I am hopeful—that the new president can lead the way out of the wilderness–––but only if we are willing to follow. The time to argue around the margins of issues is past and for the sake of the country we need to come together. We must ensure that we replace dishonesty with honesty, depravity with integrity, meanness with kindness, nonsense with discernment, lies with truth, immorality with virtue and self-interest with common good. Only when the majority of us become part of the solution rather than exacerbating the problem will we be able to replace our national darkness with light.
Bill Jamieson’s career has included leadership positions in business, government, and education. He was also an ordained deacon in the Episcopal Church and his ministry centered around advocacy for low-income families and children.