- We are getting schooled by Iran;
- Iraq is a "quagmire" (old enough to remember Vietnam being a "quagmire"?); and,
- Americans have lost faith in nearly every identifiable public institution.
What is going on?
Given that last news bite -- our national loss of trust, in Congress, in the President, in the courts, in the news media, in churches, in the police -- shouldn't we be deeply troubled? From the outside looking in, we must seem to be a nation in collapse.
How are we so overthrown by our own witless self-immolation? Is this time our opportunity to watch, to feel, the agonal breaths of a dying nation? I prefer to believe otherwise.
I was but a teen as the American malaise of the 1970s -- the product of a poorly explained war in Vietnam multiplied by the quotient of a paranoid president divided by a dangerously spiteful Democrat Congress -- reached its previous, in-my-life, all-time-high.
LBJ had doubled down on our involvement in Vietnam. Yet, as a child of a military family, as a Catholic student in parochial elementary and junior high school, as an American, I do not recall a pivotal moment when the reasoning for our involvement in Vietnam was put to us in the form of inspiration for which England's Winston Churchill was well renowned.
[In fairness to LBJ, it isn't that he never put the case forward for our involvement; the question is always, with political messages, how well has the message been communicated to the body politic. One example of his justifications for American involvement in Vietnam is the speech he gave to the National Legislative Conference in September, 1967. You can view a video of that speech here, and the full text of the speech is available from the LBJ Library's online sources here.]
In fact, my grasp that there was a deep evil to the communist subjugation of Vietnam came from extracurricular sources. Though just in seventh grade, I had read all three books -- Deliver Us from Evil: The Story of Vietnam’s Flight to Freedom (1956), The Edge of Tomorrow (1958), and The Night They Burned the Mountain (1960) -- written by Dr. Thomas Dooley, medical missionary and former Navy officer. Dooley had been a friend of my mom's from her day's as a student and as an instructor at St. Louis University. Had it not been for Dooley's short books, and for the anti-communist Marian publications to which my dad subscribed, I would not have been, even as a young adolescent, ideologically sure that we should stand with the Vietnamese and defeat the Vietcong.
For most of us, though, at best, the Vietnam conflict was vaguely connected with the worldwide threat of communist expansion. It was that expansion that JFK confronted and resisted with the embargo of Cuba during the Cuban missile crisis. The torture, barbarity and cruelty of it, in the name of ideology, was, in my experience, unspoken in class.
Johnson gave way to Nixon. Doubtless a skilled internationalist, Nixon's paranoia destroyed his administration. The deception he carried out to avoid detection and to insure his re-election after word of the break in at the Watergate Hotel made indefatigable Democratic Party attack dogs unrelenting. Consequently, the Executive Branch of our government was broken under the withering attacks of the Watergate Era. The following period -- the interregnum of Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter -- seemed a time when we simply fell back and tried to gasp for collective air.
Then, I was a young adult when Ronald Reagan proclaimed "morning in America." We were still in the grip of Jimmy Carter's pitiful performance and recession when Reagan took office. By the time Reagan's term as President ended, we were awake, vibrant, and, literally, the only "superpower" remaining on the planet.
That flash that was Reagan's optimism and positivity eventually gave way to the more somber ministrations of George HW Bush. The elder Bush did not lie about taxes. Worse, he broke faith with us on taxes when he violated his express pledge, "No new taxes." The decade of the 90s ended with the low class Bill Clinton. Clinton's presidency will forever be symbolized by a black crepe dress, a used cigar, and unseemly images of Oval Office antics. Clinton's decision to take the favor of oral sexual gratifications from a young, impressionable intern, afforded Republicans the opportunity to repeatedly scour the President, at least until the Republican leadership of the House, itself, was discovered to have its own dirty laundry.
The first decade of the 21st Century provided us with 8 straight years of constant attack by committed progressives against the Republican President, George W. Bush. It also provided us with the terrible body blows of a coordinated terror attack on our home turf, and the loss of sons and daughters at war in Iraq and in Afghanistan. By the time 2008 rolled around, the "anybody but Bush" sentiment resulted in us not only getting "anybody but Bush," it got us, as his world apology tour proved, "everybody's butt."
Now for six years running, our Nation has been helmed by a man whose easily expresses esteem for other Nations, other ways of life, other forms of government, but who is hard-pressed to extol the virtues of this land, her generous heart, and her loving sons and daughters. Obama has, like Germanwings co-pilot Andreas Lubitz did, behaved as though his purpose is to crash the American enterprise on the mountain of his disdain for us.
The constant attacks -- on our Nation, on its contributions, on its value in our world-- has, I think, worn us down. We seem to be in a state of cultural battle fatigue.
The forgotten sacrifices of WWII -- by which our dead secured the remaining lives of concentration camp inmates, the borders and political integrity of European nations, and the peace of the world -- play no seeming role in temporizing the flagellation of the Nation by masochists within and sadists without.
The good of America, the opened arms of it, to the poor, to the oppressed, to the downtrodden, seemingly counts for naught. Just last week, we observed the anniversary of 130th anniversary of the arrival of the Statue of Liberty, that iconic gift of the French people which sprang then from their ready recognition of the welcoming greatness of our People and our Nation.
The rich soil of our land, both literally and economically, in which has sprung up the world's breadbasket and the world's technologies, is disregarded, and we are told that it is evidence of our shameful selfishness, as though a starving world has not suckled on the American teat of charity.
In fact, while a new son of our nation finds it in his heart to render appreciation, as Dinesh D'Souza did with his documentary, "America: Imagine the World Without Her," the sad reality is that so much of the good of the people of this land, the kindness of them, the strength of them, seems to be forgot.
We are, without question, in a quagmire, we are being "schooled" by a listless economy, and we have, in fact, found that institutions on which we have reliably counted in the past, such as news media, the courts, the police, and most particularly, our houses of worship, have broken faith with us.
The question remains: Quo Tendimus? Where are we going?
Well, we are, at least for now, going into the undiscovered country, the future. I say undiscovered for the obvious reason, that we do not yet have a commercially available time machine. Yet, that future can be discovered, to some extent, by considering the past. The old saw, "he that does not learn from the past is condemned to repeat it," counsels us to the wisdom of understanding how the cycles of life and human interaction really do, with new casts, new sets, and sometimes new reasons for urgency, repeat themselves. For those that study, as the carved inscription at the National Archives advises, "Past is Prologue."
As Americans, we are accustomed to the quadrennial presidential election serving as a substitute for a stout episode of reflection and correction. Bush's election after the juvenile bacchanalia of the Clinton era reflected that pause and reconsideration. Obama's election after eight numbing years of war and loss did too. Neither Bush's election twice nor Obama's election twice accomplished for us, as a People, what Reagan's did, in lifting us up and moving us forward as did Reagan's terms in office. Instead, matters seem only more bogged down than ever.
I suppose at this point, I could begin to list the candidates, their virtues, their strengths, their weaknesses, as I see them currently. From that catalog, I could begin to build a case for another morning in America, another Ronald Reagan moment. But, frankly, none of the candidates to date, declared or undeclared, Republican or Democrat, have demonstrated the combined gifts and skills of Reagan or one like a Reagan. And we may not benefit from another Reagan as we did once.
As a longtime resident of Northern Virginia, I watched, with pain, as the Redskins sought to recapture the greatness of an earlier era by bringing Coach Joe Gibbs back to coach the team. Painful hardly describes the experience. Everyone I knew hoped the plan would work. Everyone I knew felt each body blow of disappointment as the plan failed. The times, the teams, and the game were different when Gibbs II sought to recapture the Redskins that had performed for Gibbs I.
More is at play, too, than just my frank acknowledgment that Clinton, Sanders, Biden, and Warren could never get my vote, because of their progressive policies, with statist inclinations, and their strident advocacy for unfettered abortion legalization. In fact, more is at play than my equally frank concession that Cruz, Rubio, Bush, Perry, Walker, Kasich, Carson, Fiorina, Trump, Jindal, Pataki, and Paul have not yet managed to state, in bold and clarifying terms, a reason that COMPELS my vote and support for them. Instead, a lifetime in the law has, I suspect, jaded me on the notion that real and enduring solutions come from, or survive well, in Washington, DC.
If you take me to mean that I will not be voting in November 2016, you have mistaken my meaning. I will address the candidates and issues as we move toward the election. I will cast a ballot, though I certainly pray that I have the opportunity to vote with both hands, rather than having to vote with one hand while holding my nose with the other.
On the other hand, if you take my meaning to be that the American malaise will not find real healing because of the outcome of the 2016 election, then you understand my mind.