Has America passed us by?

Published 9:48 pm Saturday, April 4, 2009

I see it in the hundreds of emails I get a week. ‘I worry about our future’, they say. Some are talking about their immediate future – their jobs, their mortgages, their businesses. Others are talking about the future of America. Some are specific, some are general.

But you don’t have to read my email box to see it. It is everywhere: weariness and worry. You can see it in the deflated shoulders of the man exhausted from weeks of job-searching, the empty eyes of a woman awake too many nights wondering how to make the mortgage payment, the creased brow of a father preparing to tell his daughter to defer the college acceptance letter.

America is weary from the relatively sudden realization that what we silently, and perhaps reflexively, relied on is not as stable as we thought – the worth of our home, our plan for retirement, the permanence of our job. Over the last year, even on the best of days and even for those of us in the best of circumstances, we carry weariness.

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This week, I found myself wondering: “Has the best of America passed us by?” After all, look at where we are today. Americans today enjoy the finest quality of life. We read breaking news from halfway around the world within minutes, we take digital pictures with our cell phones, and we shop online with the click of a button. Our cars are heated in the winter and cooled in the summer and many of them give us turn-by-turn directions to our destination. The shelves of our grocery stores are stocked with fifty types of cereals and a couple dozen flavors of ice cream.

We communicate by phone, fax, email, instant message, text message, video teleconference and social networking. We have YouTube, eBay, iPhones and TiVo. In the middle of the night when there is an urgent medical situation, we have access to emergency rooms – and the next morning, we can seek out doctors from an amazing array of specialties. We have public libraries, public parks, and public utilities. Our children are vaccinated, they carry cell phones, and many will attend college. We vacation. We have hobbies. And, when we want a hamburger we choose from McDonald’s, Burger King, Five Guys, Wendy’s, Hardee’s, and another half dozen options depending on where we are … and we can order that burger without even getting out of our car.

Two hundred years ago, our everyday lives would have been unfathomable to everyday Americans. But most days, we don’t find those things to be remarkable at all.

So has the best of America passed us by? Somewhere along the line did we hit our peak?

At a time when it seems so hard to believe in ourselves, it’s important to take a look at where we have been in the last two hundred years. From a group of agricultural communities we built the largest and most technologically powerful economy in the world. From a nation of immigrants and frontiersmen traveling with all of their worldly possessions, we become the wealthiest nation in the world. From a militia of countrymen with muskets, we developed the most sophisticated and specialized military in the world. From a group of thirteen loosely-affiliated colonies, we became the oldest continuing democracy in the world.

We are the people that invented the lightbulb, the telephone, the computer, and the artificial heart. We are the people that pioneered the automobile, the train, and the airplane. We put a man on the moon. We discovered DNA. We built the finest universities, a rich and robust legal system, and a vibrant and enduring political process. We have vast natural resources, highly productive farmlands, and astonishingly diverse cultures. We built baseball out of immigrant traditions and the internet out of dorm rooms. We are a nation where the children of illiterate parents can grow up to be pediatric neurosurgeons. We are free to worship, free to speak, free to assemble. We are extraordinary.

How did we become the greatest nation in the world?

It was our people. It was our ingenuity, our hard work. It was us banking on ourselves and believing in ourselves. We believed we could build a nation not of kings but of men. We did it. We believed we could be the industrial and technological leader of the world. We did it. We believed we could put a man on the moon. We did it.

Today, Americans are scared and shaken, and we’ve lost some confidence in ourselves. Especially because of this, we want so badly to believe in our leaders in Washington. We want to believe that there are wise and thoughtful men and women at the helm of our nation. Perhaps we’ve convinced ourselves that it was the wisdom of sage elites that guided previous generations rather than wisdom of the American people. But it us – not our government – that we need to believe in.

We don’t need our government to back our warranties, to run our companies, or to redistribute our paychecks. We don’t need more government; we need less government and more efficient government. The American people have a brilliant and enduring history of overcoming challenge. We – the people – are our greatest hope for the future. It is our ingenuity and hard work that will rebuild our economy.

We may worry about the America of today, but we believe in the America of tomorrow. We are not the generation that will look into the eyes of our children and say, “The best has passed us by”. It is not our nature. It is not who we are. It is not American.