December 22, 2014

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‘American’ ideals

Sept. 30, 2010

By Kayla Purvis

As Thomas Patterson, author of “The American Democracy,” says, “The American political culture centers on a set of core ideals — liberty, equality, self-government, individualism, diversity, and unity — that serve as the people’s common bond.” What happened to these ideals? That’s what I want to write about this week.

America’s core values are liberty, equality and self-government. Liberty is used synonymously with “freedom,” but does not have the same meaning. Liberty is the freedom to act or think as one chooses so long as it does not infringe upon the rights of others. Equality does not mean equal in monetary or social status. It means equal in moral worth and protection under the law. And self-government is the principle that the people of this nation must have a voice and be the ultimate governing authority. In other words, the people run the government.

We have a superiority complex. We think that we are the richest, most elite and most intelligent, and therefore we must be the best. We use this logic to try to impose our government and ways of life on other countries. Newsweek ranked the United States as number 11 in its list of 100 best countries in the world. President Barack Obama says, “Americans won’t settle for number two!” Well then, we better turn back into the America that existed 80 years ago.

We had what Thomas Friedman, a journalist for the New York Times, calls a “values breakdown” between the Greatest Generation and now. Members of the Greatest Generation could not escape the trials of their time: the Great Depression, Nazi Germany, threats of Communism, World War II …. Their problems could hardly be fixed by taxes or policies. They had to work, suffer and sacrifice. At the time of the Depression, most Americans were unaware of the government. Meaning, it laid low. The government was small, as it should be.

Friedman points out that the leaders of that generation were not afraid to tell Americans that they would need to sacrifice in order to progress. Today? Today politicians have to find ways around sacrifice, because Americans are lazy. We expect everything immediately, wonder what will be done for us and expect something for doing nothing. What happened to our work ethic? What happened to the promise of coming to America and working toward success?

A perfect example is welfare. It was well-intentioned, I will give it that. But there are so many people who purposefully do not go get a job because they want to make sure they still get those welfare checks. Excuse me, but what about the people working and paying for those checks? What about the people who actually need the money? It’s awful how lazy so many Americans have gotten.

The Greatest Generation was not afraid of hard situations. Sacrifice? They knew it was necessary. Work? They didn’t expect to get paid without it. Tough decisions? They didn’t whine and complain because not everybody would be happy.

In today’s America, no one wants to upset anyone else. There is this idea that it is possible to pacify every group, while simultaneously our party system is driving the country in two. Why are we so passive? Why are we afraid to offend somebody by saying what we think or what is right? Why do we pitch a fit whenever something hard comes along that may require us to hurt a little bit? Because we are a lazy America.

Somewhere along the way we left our ideals behind. Welfare conflicts with individualism, the principle that we are each responsible for taking our own initiative and being self-sufficient. Our changed and incorrect definition of equality has prompted passivity. And self-government? We are kissing it goodbye every time we make the government bigger. Unity is being pushed as the need to come together to provide for everyone else, instead of the principle that we are united as one nation. Diversity is the respect for different individuals and groups, and is clearly nonexistent as we look at our fighting party system, non-admitted religious intolerance and tip-toeing around racial groups.

So, we won’t accept being ranked number two, but we aren’t willing to work to be number one. Well, then I guess we better get used to the idea of being surpassed by country after country as more of them become more like old America: hard-working, willing to sacrifice and appreciative of what they have. Maybe that is what it will take for America to remember its work ethic, and take back our number-one spot.

Williston resident Kayla Purvis is a senior at Champlain Valley Union High School.

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