“Grateful yet Fearful
At my 76 years of life, I see many highlights as well as some significant short comings. But, On balance, I feel grateful to be an American.
But, looking at our present and into the future I feel a haunting fear: the state of the nation my generation is leaving to our grandchildren is that of a country in decline. Don’t misunderstand me, I believe America is in many ways a great nation.
We are vast in size and resources, stretching between two oceans and touching on five Great Lakes that hold 21% of the earth’s surface fresh water; our land is studded with magnificent mountain ranges, from the Rockies in the west to the Appalachians in the east, and crisscrossed by 3.5 million miles of rivers. We have lush croplands stretching from coast to coast, virgin forests, approximately 100-million acres of wetlands and an abundance of natural resources. Without a doubt, America’s physical breadth and diversity knows no equal.
Offering America’s Gifts to the World
The accomplishments of American people over the centuries are legend, from carving out great cities in the wilderness to putting a man on the moon. American ingenuity fueled social, industrial and technological advancements across the globe. Our economy is vibrant, and our military is the largest and the most powerful in the world.
Perhaps the greatest American accomplishment is our democracy. The women and men who guided America from colony to country offered a new idea about what a nation could be, an idea that ran counter to other 18th-century governments in which royalty and wealth ruled the people. Our founders had a different idea: a nation built on the revolutionary principles of self-governance, rule of law, and liberty for all.
Our Legacy Includes Failures
We should celebrate the coast-to-cost grandeur of America, and be proud of our revolutionary concepts of governance, but we cannot ignore our failures and faults. We must acknowledge our many tragic missteps. Some–––such as slavery, continuing racism and sexism, and atrocities committed against Native Americans–––remain indelible stains on our national soul.
Today we are inflicting another stain: squandering our inheritance. The gift of abundant natural resources is being sacrificed on the altar of commerce and consumption. And, the idea that a government of the people, by the people and for the people can flourish is becoming lost in a lurch toward authoritarianism.
When it comes to our social fabric, the principles of equal justice for all, equality of opportunity, and combating racial and gender discrimination are too often merely rhetoric without corrective action.
Our practice of politics has lost its commitment to seeking the common good and has been reduced to narrow, ideological battles. National discourse has degenerated. We have moved away from intense but civil debate to shouting matches where outright lies, half-truths and “alternative facts” are repeated so often and loudly that they become common “fact.”
We Must do Better
Despite all of the above, I remain hopeful that we will reverse our national decline and recapture the grandeur expressed (but never perfectly lived out) in the original idea of a just and equitable America. To begin we must first recognize and acknowledge our faults and then pursue bold actions to correct them.
Unfortunately, when people of different political allegiances come together to compromise around solutions they are often ignored or dismissed as unpatriotic. Under the current administration they are branded “enemies” by a President who sees criticism of his policies as treasonous. But he is wrong.
True patriots do not give allegiance to brutal despots and dictators.
Today’s true American patriots engage the struggle to rebalance and reclaim our democracy; they seek solutions that enhance the common good.
That task is urgent. If we fail, my generation’s legacy will be a nation deeply mired in accelerating environmental catastrophes, growing racism and sexism, and ever-expanding inequality between the wealthiest Americans and everyone else.
If we succeed, America will be on the path to again become a symbol of democracy, justice and opportunity in the world. Our grandchildren will remember us as patriots in the best sense of that word rather than as a generation that left them an atrocious mess to clean up. The ball is in our court.
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.