I randomly came upon a couple of YouTube clips of President Reagan being interviewed by Johnny Carson in 1975. I’ll post those later, but they are not what led me here this evening.
Those clips led me to find Reagan’s Presidential farewell address, in which I was somewhat surprised to find that many of the same things I see in today’s America existed over thirty years ago just the same.
As he closed his speech, Reagan discussed what he called his desire for an "informed patriotism." He lamented the fact that perhaps America was not teaching its children enough of what she represents in terms of the long history of mankind.
"Those of us who are over 35 or so years of age [in 1989, mind you] grew up in a different America," he said. "We were taught, very directly, what it means to be an American. And we absorbed, almost in the air, a love of country and an appreciation of its institutions. If you didn't get these things from your family you got them from the neighborhood, from the father down the street who fought in Korea or the family who lost someone at Anzio. Or you could get a sense of patriotism from school. And if all else failed you could get a sense of patriotism from the popular culture. The movies celebrated democratic values and implicitly reinforced the idea that America was special. TV was like that, too, through the mid-sixties."
I might suggest that while the paradigm was somewhat shifting during his time at The White House, America... or at least my vision of her, was largely that same patriotic nation he remembered, throughout the 1980's and into the early 1990's.
"But now, we're about to enter the nineties," he continued, and some things have changed. Younger parents aren't sure that an unambivalent appreciation of America is the right thing to teach modern children. And as for those who create the popular culture, well-grounded patriotism is no longer the style. Our spirit is back, but we haven't reinstitutionalized it. We've got to do a better job of getting across that America is freedom -- freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of enterprise. And freedom is special and rare. It's fragile; it needs production [protection]."
This is what I see today. I believe there is an entire generation... maybe two generations... that largely don't understand America as I understand her. Imperfect, but incredible. A beacon of hope for the rest of the world. That "shining city upon a hill" Reagan spoke of so eloquently. A place where everyone may not be born into the same circumstances, but with hard work and some luck, everyone has an opportunity to make of himself and his life whatever he wants it to be.
Instead, America is teaching its children that this nation is evil. Our education system is indoctrinating children with the belief that America was founded for the purpose of chattel slavery of black peoples, and to kill the indigenous peoples, and to enrich the white man beyond their wildest imagination.
This simply is not true. America’s Founding Fathers knew the evils of slavery. They wrote about it extensively. Presidents Washington and Jefferson both refused to sell their slaves – not because they were fearful of being without them, but because they knew they as white landowners were in a position to protect them and maintain their family units, which would be nearly impossible if any or all of these people had been sold into the trade market.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” These were not just words on a piece of paper; this was the ideal from which a great nation was born. An imperfect nation that had to grow. An imperfect nation, within which hundreds of thousands of its own citizens would sacrifice themselves for the betterment of the nation they loved and the freedom of their fellow man, so that it might grow to become a more perfect union, wherein Liberty and Justice for all might someday become the only way of life anyone could ever know.
“So, we've got to teach history based not on what's in fashion but what's important -- why the Pilgrims came here, who Jimmy Doolittle was, and what those 30 seconds over Tokyo meant.”
Reagan continued, “You know, 4 years ago on the 40th anniversary of D - Day, I read a letter from a young woman writing to her late father, who'd fought on Omaha Beach. Her name was Lisa Zanatta Henn, and she said, ``We will always remember, we will never forget what the boys of Normandy did.''
“Well, let's help her keep her word,” he said. “If we forget what we did, we won't know who we are. I'm warning of an eradication of the American memory that could result, ultimately, in an erosion of the American spirit. Let's start with some basics: more attention to American history and a greater emphasis on civic ritual.”
It's the idea of civic ritual that’s been lost as much as or more than anything. Americans aren’t Americans like we used to be. If you had to hide under your desk for fear of the Russians dropping nukes on your school, you get a much greater sense of community than if you’re told the lie that your President is a stooge for the Russians. If you are constantly told that police are bad and that they’re out to get you, your natural reaction when interacting with police will be to recoil, and potentially act out in violence for fear of being harmed or killed by these people you’ve been taught to fear. And if you’re taught that those who happen to have success or have been born into wealth are selfish, and oppressing any chance you for success, you’re likely to resent them. And when you’re indoctrinated with the additional belief that your skin color is the reason these selfish people are holding you back…well, here we are today.
We need to work together to mend what ails us. We need the “news” media to be fair and honest, not partisan and dishonest. We need to remember the “golden rule” and treat each other as we would expect to be treated in kind. We need to not judge people on any more than their actions, and we need to be worthy of positive judgment for actions of our own.
America can still be that Shining City on a Hill. It’s up to you and me.