What Kind of America Do You Want?
If You Don't Decide, Who Do You Think Will?
Do you want...
- ...a nation free from bigotry?
- ...an America respected by other nations?
- ...your country to be a leader among nations?
- ...an America with more prisons?
- ...to live in fear?
- ...education for all of America 's children?
- ...a healthy nation?
- ...a viable health care system?
- ...your nation to be competitive in the global economy?
- ... America to be a global leader in invention and discovery?
- ...government separate from religion?
- ...a nation in debt?
Think seriously about each question. The list isn't comprehensive; it's my personal list. You may have other questions on yours. I challenge you to delve beyond your first answers—to answers with depth and nuance. Probably no one, for example, would choose to live in fear—but what does that really mean. Fear of what, and of whom—from outside or inside our borders—from outside or inside ourselves—of fear itself? Is our typical response to fear really only a decision to remain fearful?
I'm asking you to do a lot of work here. Why should you? How important is it? Most of these questions have hung in the balance for decades—some since before we were a nation. What's the urgency? Why should you answer them today? And why you?
It's likely that answers to many of these questions will be decided in the next few years. The decisions already impinge upon us daily, from within and from without. In his 1970 book, Future Shock, Alvin Toffler suggested that technological and cultural change had begun to occur faster than our minds and our mores could assimilate. If that was true three and a half decades ago, it is certainly a more devastating phenomenon today. It forces on us the most important political decisions we have ever had to make.
In my headline, I asked who will make these critical decisions if you don't. The answer is that they will be made by whoever chooses to make them. If you're not there, others will be. How willing are you to gamble that they will make the right choices. Have others already begun to make the essential decisions of democracy for you? How has that worked out so far?
I need go no further in this direction. I've either convinced you to answer a list of critical questions, or I haven't. If I haven't, I probably can't. If I have convinced you, let's move on.
When you have at least some of the answers, begin to consider the institutions around you with respect to those answers. How do the purposes and actions of those institutions compare to your ideals? If you belong to a major political party for example, how does it stack up? Does it oppose bigotry, or tacitly support it? Does it offer genuine leadership to the world, or dogmatic ideology? How many prisons is it building; how many schools? Are the policies and the actions of your political party really leading you to the America you want? Do you know?
How about the other party? Are they better? Are they worse?
Now what ought you do about it? You could change parties. You could become more active in yours, and change it from within. You could start a new one. You could decide to engage in political action outside of any party. What will be effective? What will be honest? What will demonstrate integrity?
Get personal in this political analysis. Consider your congressperson and your two senators. Are they doing what you would have them do? Do they know what you want of them? Do they care? When was the last time you sent an email to your congressional representative? When was the last time you got a personal reply, and believed that your message had actually been read? When was the last time he or she held a meeting in your community where you could ask a question or voice an opinion? Has there been such a meeting since the last election? Why are you and your neighbors tolerating the behavior of your representative? Can you really believe your senators and representative are effective in helping achieve the America you want?
And what can you do? You could get active in your own party to find a candidate who will work for you. You might consider running yourself. You could vote for the other party's candidate next time—if you believe he or she is more likely to move America in the direction you want.
Look beyond politics. Do you belong to a church? What do you hear from your pulpit? Do you hear bigotry? Do you hear fear? And what about the actions of your church? Is it working to improve education in your community—to build tolerance? Now, look around you. Who is sitting next to you? Is she the same color as you? Is she poorer? Is her culture different in any way? Or is she almost exactly like you? Can you learn anything from her? Is the collective experience of your congregation helping to create the America in which you want to live?
What else do you do in your life? Are you active in your children's school—in a civic organization—in volunteer work? What's going on there? Are the people steering that organization working for your vision of America ? How about the person sitting next to you? How about you?
Are you employed? Do you work for a large or a small company? Is that company helping to build America, or only seeking to profit from it. Does your own work contribute to or detract from what you seek for your nation?
Think about the culture in which you participate. Does the music you listen to, or the television you watch enhance or degrade the new America you seek? Do you see and hear bigotry and fear, or tolerance and purpose? Is your music, or film or art important? Should it be important?
Another critical element to consider is the news you see, hear or read. Are your news sources giving you the important information you need—or do they seem to be more in the business of entertaining you, or provoking you, or frightening you? Are they giving you hard facts and a legitimate context in which to evaluate those facts? At the end of a news segment on your television channel or network, are you better prepared to make good decisions, or not?
Your political party, your church, your job, your news source—should you change it? Should you stay or leave? What can you do? What must you do?
You are deciding what kind of America you want. You can't escape the decision. Where are you taking us? Is it where you want to go?
This year, or the next, or the next, the core of this decision will be made. It will be made when you vote—or don't. It will be made when you write or speak to a politician, or an editor, or a neighbor—or when you don't. It will be made when you laugh at a joke—or don't. The stakes couldn't possibly be higher. The decision couldn't possibly be more critical.
What kind of America do you want?