With the coming election this fall and the current state of the union, it's a good time to take the pulse of the average American. I don't know how "average" I am statistically, but I suspect that how I feel accurately represents a very significant segment of the populace.
I was born when there were 48 stars on the flag. I was raised to know right from wrong. We never had to "talk about it" either ... you knew. I learned in public school about the brilliance of our founders and about American exceptionalism. I've seen my country lead the way in business, science, math, art, technology, personal freedoms, and overall quality of life. I believe that unfettered capitalism is the best, most effective economic system in history. I fly Old Glory at my house. I vote and I pay my taxes. I keep my grass cut and my wood frame house looking nice. My wife is my best friend and the finest person I know. She and I have raised three kids and buried a fourth. We give what we can to charity. I guess I'm just another "little guy" ... but there're a lot of us out there.
The America that I see now is not the one that I have known in my earlier years. It's almost a foreign country. I see four areas of our society that used to work, but have now failed us miserably.
First on the failure list is our political leadership. Our leaders, particularly at the national level, are more concerned with retaining their power short-term than they are with enhancing their constituents' welfare long term. They have done great damage to our free enterprise system by exploding burdensome government regulations and enacting the highest corporate tax rate on the planet. They have bankrupted us with unimaginable debt. They are moving us quickly towards a European-style socialism. Our "leaders" demonize and punish the risk-taking achievers among us ... you know, the guys that account for 70-plus percent of the job creation in this country. Rather than trying to solve our problems with bold, decisive action, our leaders either "nibble around the edges" of the problem or simply kick the can down the road for others to worry about. I no longer trust our leaders to lead.
Second on the failure list is our mass media. People are, to some degree, slaves to their media. When the media does not perform its normal watchdog function and present the facts in a non-biased fashion, as ours has, we all suffer. The media has become very left-leaning in their reporting. While it is true that there are some fairly accurate media outlets, particularly radio-based or Internet-based, too many Americans are getting an inaccurate picture of where we are and where we're headed. I don't always know what information to trust anymore.
A third concern is our public school system. Jefferson correctly saw that an educated population was critical to the long-term success of the republic. American schools no longer rank in the top tier internationally. Teacher union work rules are more concerned with teacher tenure than they are with the proper education of the future leaders (and voters) of America. Much of what is taught is politically correct, statist drivel rather than useful information for the real world. Public school teachers artificially enhance students' self-esteem with "awards" for non-achievement. People that live in the real world know that self-esteem is a byproduct of achievement, not a precondition for it. Our schools have contributed to an overall dumbing down of America. I don't trust them with our most precious national resource: our children .
The fourth item on my failure list is harder to label, but I'll call it our "culture." We seem to have lost our respect for things that served us well in the past. Things like integrity, hard work, shared sacrifice, loyalty, patriotism and spirituality don't matter to people as much as they used to. I see that the traditional pillars of our society have faltered or disappeared completely. Entertainment media too often promotes self-centered immediate gratification (by any means) to impressionable members of our society. Superficial diversity is made to appear more important than performance. Church attendance is down. Ditto with the Boy Scouts. Two-parent families have now become the exception rather than the rule. People seem more divided than they used to be. I'm losing trust in our culture.
The country I'm living in now is not the one I grew up in. We've had bad leaders, misguided media, mediocre schools, and imperfect social structures in the past. But it sure seems like things are getting worse.
I was raised to believe that "boys don't cry" and that real men don't admit to fear, but I've got to be honest ... I'm scared. It feels like America is at a tipping point, and our great experiment may have already seen its best days.
So what should we do? Do we pack it in and move to another country? Do we just "hole up" here and make the best of a bad situation? No. We are not quitters. We're Americans!
I am reminded of another time in American history when things looked pretty bleak. It was 1942. We found ourselves in the midst of the most brutal war in human history. America came to that war after a decade-long, punishing-depression that had weakened our people's spirits and decimated our industrial base. We had one of the smallest standing armies on the planet. Almost every battle that we entered into during 1942 resulted in defeat. It was a very dicey time in American history. It could have gone either way. But no one remembers that now. It is seldom taught in history classes. All we remember is that America was the unstoppable juggernaut that achieved a resounding victory in WWII. How did we turn the perils of 1942 into victory? We did it by working hard together. We had the shared sacrifices of rationing on the home front and death and crippling wounds on the battle front. Our industries came together to form the arsenal of democracy. America had to really "lean into it," but ultimately we saved our world from evil.
We've got a national election coming up. Some say it's the single most important election of our lives. I'm going to vote. So should you.
But no matter who wins this November, all of us "little guys" need to turn it up a notch and do a better job of being an American. We've all gotten a little too passive and complacent. Remember, our founders were right. It is 'We the People' that will determine the fate of the republic, not our temporary political leaders. We must get involved, stay vigilant, and hold our leadership accountable. We must forcefully (but respectfully) communicate with our local, state, and national leaders. We must press for smaller government, lower taxes, a strong defense, and school improvements. We've got to challenge our neighbors, friends, coworkers, and relatives to conduct their lives with more traditional, American values. When we see the entertainment industry producing movies, songs, or TV with the wrong message, let's vote with our feet and seek entertainment elsewhere. We've got to work together and hold each other accountable.
I'm tired of being scared. We 'little guys' can take our country back. Lean into it!
John Bowers has lived in Newton County for 25 years. He and his wife Diane are the parents of three college-age children: Zach, USMA/West Point, and Regan and Corey, who are both students at Georgia Tech. Bowers retired early from Southern Company and does local volunteer work at Bert Adams Boy Scout reservation and Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center. He has authored several books, the most recent being "100 Things Every American Should Know" (Amazon/CreateSpace).