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RESCUE AMERICAOUR BEST AMERICA IS ONLY ONE GENERATION AWAY
By CHRIS SALAMONE GILBERT MORRIS
Greenleaf Book Group PressCopyright © 2012 CMS Media Group LLC
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHE INHERITANCE WE DIED FOR
Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was once like in the United States where men were free. —Ronald Reagan
Former President Reagan's weighty words reflect one side of the coin of our future. It is true that the cornerstone of our country—freedom—is always only one generation from extinction. And yet the other side of the coin is also true: America is only one generation from its greatest days.
What will make the difference?
Listening to today's predominant discourse will tell you that overhauled health care or free market solutions or reduced government spending will tip the scale. There are many theories about which matters most and many more theories about what the remedies must entail. Yet while these opportune topics must always be discussed, they should never steer the conversation. Such topics tend to focus resources on only the surface needs of some Americans without considering the substantive needs of every American. Our substantive needs are largely intangible, and intangibles are, unfortunately, easy to overlook.
However, the intangibles are topics we must never forget. They, and not the prevailing pundit drift, should dominate our discourse now and into the future. We need to remind ourselves of a time when this country's only ingredients were the gratitude, personal responsibility, and ongoing sacrifice of men and women who had taken great and sometimes grave risks for three very simple yet profound ideals: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Our country's origin is defined by the characteristics of men and women who left their homes and livelihoods, the familiarity of their friends and the comforts of their native cultures, to pursue the promise of something better than the world had ever known. They were Europeans mostly, and among them members of my own family. My great-grandparents left everything they knew in Cerda, Sicily, to embark on a passenger boat for America with only the clothes on their backs and twenty dollars to their name. They were certainly not alone in their journey. Many others made the dangerous voyage too—at some point, members from most of our families did. I often wonder what filled their thoughts and what their conversations were like. One thing I know is that what dominated the discourse of their day should still dominate our discourse today, because theirs were not only the topics that unified the first Americans—they are the topics that drove the dawning of the American dynasty, one which, despite differences and disagreements, compelled us to care for one another and fight for one another.
Isn't this the America you believe in?
Isn't this the heritage you hope to leave to your children and grandchildren?
We are a country, yes. But we are more than that—like a family, we are bound together by a history and a heritage that includes a set of ideals, values, and principles that make us who we are and show us who we can become. To be certain, members of our country, like members of a family, don't always see eye to eye. But families remain together when their hearts remain united by their core principles, values, and standards. Such unity should be the driving force today, because Reagan is right—Americas inheritance never was or will be passed down in the bloodstream. Yet it must be passed down, somehow, if we are to remain united like no other country in the world.
How that must happen is what this book is all about.
Do you believe the founding values of the United States of America are permanent and, to quote Shakespeare, "an ever-fixed mark [t]hat looks on tempests and is never shaken"?
This is the question at the root of the great and confusing complex of issues with which our nation is currently grappling. We can all agree that the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, and the principles codified in them are the basis upon which this nation was founded. But should we stretch or alter our values in order to meet the challenges of our time or the prevailing cultural expectations?
America was founded—as John Adams said—on "the most stupendous articles" ever laid before a parliament of men. Those articles were based on the first principles of the rights of man and were so resilient and redeeming that even the most cynical examination of American history reflects a constant march toward a "more perfect union" by means of constant correction of wrongs.
Those founding values were responsible over time for the rise of an American dynasty that has been—though not without its mistakes—a constant force for good in the world, extending the benefits of liberty and prosperity to the largest number of people at any time in human history. America was made great through its founding values and exercised its greatness more in its generosity than in conquest or imposition.
But now America faces headwinds of ruthless partisanship, imperial overreach, and economic implosion.
Who among us—at least those who are honest and not blinded by aimless nationalism—would not admit that our nation has lost its way? Who will deny that the values that gave us the humane living we enjoy seem to have been forgotten? If our Founding Fathers could observe us today would gratitude, personal responsibility, and a willingness to sacrifice for the sake of national prosperity be evident? Who does not feel the threatening hand of fate and the collapsing favor of fortune warning us that if we are to survive and thrive as a nation we must return to what made us what we are? And who does not fear that things have run so far away from those values, that a system of corruption has now emerged in which our citizens and elected officials demonize rather than disagree, compromise rather than cooperate, and react rather than respond?
Our nation stands at a crossroads: Either we will recognize the forces that are pulling us farther and farther apart, and make the difficult choices and sacrifices necessary to rescue America, or we will lose the world's last great hope for humanity.
The solutions required will not be agreed upon easily or take effect immediately, but the urgency of our situation requires a radical refocusing on what has always been essential in the making of America. Make no mistake—we are in a fight for our survival. If we do not commit ourselves to rescue America, she will surely perish.
The problem with the current debate over what ails our nation is that it places effects in the position of causes. Those forces put forth as primary causes of our decline are actually large systems of effects driven within our political culture, effects that are so obvious, so tangible, that we come to regard them as more fundamental than they are.
There is no doubt, for instance, that departure from prudence in international affairs, resulting in expensive misadventures abroad over the last hundred years, is certainly a force in the nation's present state of affairs. Government spending has run amok, with successive administrations and Congress passing pork laden legislation, each parry with its own pet projects adding to our national financial burdens, and neither side having the credibility to speak for the prudence that was once the hallmark of American fiscal management. Who can doubt that our present economic woes owe as much to the orgiastic greed exhibited on Wall Street as to a dereliction of duty in Washington and to imprudence in the population in general?
Still others say the cause of our decline is the societal malaise, excesses, and debauchery of a people grown fat—literally—on profligate government entitlements.
Finally, there are those who argue that our decline is being authored by combinations of these factors, resulting in the decimation of our sense of national community, the disintegration of the family unit, and the decline of America. While this comes closest to the truth, the true cause of our problems is that we no longer create citizens who understand and embrace the core values that made this nation "the United States of America."
A zero sum game has been created in which the larger questions of the needs and health of the nation are overrun by those who routinely absolve themselves of personal responsibility, seeking immediate satisfaction and making demands on the nation that are inconsistent with its foundational values. As such, the causes for decline lie in the psychological evisceration of the ideals and practice of gratitude, personal responsibility, and sacrifice upon which the first Americans came together.
Our first duty, then, is to produce the kind of citizen capable of sustaining this nation's great heritage. We must produce this level of citizenship in ourselves and in those around us. We must cultivate citizens who understand what it means to "be American" and who instill in each subsequent generation, and in those immigrants we welcome to our shores, a culture that embraces and upholds a lifestyle of gratitude, personal responsibility, and sacrifice—a citizenry who feel a burning sense of gratitude for the opportunities provided by a nation built on the efforts and sacrifices of those who came before them; who take responsibility for themselves and for all the outcomes of their lives; and who are willing and determined to make further sacrifices to both seize the opportunities America offers and to perpetuate Americas greatness.
It is true that at the very moment our Founding Fathers were announcing the values of such citizenry, the nation was committing atrocities (such as slavery) that violated the values themselves. Yet that fact does not make these values any less legitimate and worthy. We must simply look to the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States for guidance: "We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union ..." This means, among other things, that the people of America are—or should be—constantly perfecting this nation by admitting wrongs, correcting injustices, and making a sustained effort to protect, uphold, and solidify its foundation.
Consider the parents and grandparents of what Tom Brokaw has labeled the "Greatest Generation." Before 1900, these predecessors of Americas Greatest Generation consisted primarily of generations of immigrants, mostly from Europe, who came to this country at great risk and embraced and adopted Americas founding values. These would-be citizens didn't board 747s, sipping mimosas en route and landing seven hours later at JFK airport. They left their homes, the lands they knew, their neighbors and friends, and often their family—all the unspoken intimacies, certainties, and sinews of their histories—and traveled weeks, sometimes months, across the Atlantic knowing they might not ever reach the land of their dreams.
Why would they risk everything? It had to be for something truly extraordinary.
They came because of the appeal of the American Experiment, the draw of American values, the promise of a more perfect union. And when they landed, first and foremost among their instincts was a sincere feeling of gratitude—gratitude for the privilege of being in America and gratitude for the sacrifices made by so many to create this nation. They were motivated by a duty to work hard, to take responsibility for the outcomes of their lives (good or bad). And they were compelled to make further sacrifices as they embraced the opportunities America provided. The men and women of the Greatest Generation were heirs to this legacy.
Such heirs seem missing today. Has the legacy been damaged?
Yes. But not beyond repair. Still, that repair begins with you and me.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is one who understood this. His deep philosophical insight into American values as our great moral teacher was inspiring. He believed so profoundly in those values that his life was spent advocating—and was even sacrificed—for the sort of change that moved us ever closer to a more perfect embodiment of them. With a magisterial eloquence—matched in our history, in my view, only by Abraham Lincoln—King prophesied, "I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'"
This creed was for him, as it should be for all Americans, "an ever-fixed mark." Our rescue lies in a committed march toward a more perfect embodiment of the values that uphold such foundational creeds.
Citizens of most nations speak of a faith in their country. But given that America was initiated and built on values, it is much more appropriate to speak of a faith in "American values." At a clear and decisive point, the values by which we consented to live were established, and they were sufficiently broad and deep to allow us to grow as a nation. Those values—life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness—have produced such high levels of protection and prosperity that we honor those who have given the "last full measure of devotion"—ultimate sacrifices of life, liberty, and happiness—for them. We commemorate them because they demonstrate for us that it is possible to have faith in those values in an absolute way, beyond faith in the country itself.
To emphasize the difficulty and the quiet but stupendous majesty of this faith, I can say that it rests upon something all lovers of liberty feel instinctively: Justice, while often delayed, is not ultimately justice denied. Or as Dr. King once said: "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." This is the same faith those like Frederick Douglass continued to hold despite being denied the benefits of liberty—whether because of racism, ideology, or expediency. These faithful did not define America or the strength of its values by that denial or delay. They believed the values upon which America was founded were larger, more powerful, and more evocative than the moment of their suffering. They believed justice would one day come.
Under and because of this faith, we have endured what no logic could convince us to endure. We hold fast, knowing these founding values make it possible for the greatest number of human beings to become their best selves, to experience life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
1. I believe in American exceptionalism. 2. I believe in America, in the values upon which America was founded, and what it stands for. As I have seen the sacrifices made by the relative few, on behalf of so many, and as I have experienced firsthand great successes and painful failures, I have come to better understand the true magic and majesty of this great young nation. And through the good times and the bad, I have found honor and reward in simply entering the arena this nation provides, playing in this game of life and giving it my all. Here, as nowhere else, I can move with a resolve in the areas of my own interest, without fear that I will be in any other way impeded by law and without fear that what I reap from my own efforts will be taken from me. 3. I believe in Americas founding values and the ethic upon which this nation was formed. I believe in an America that embodies and embraces a spirit of freedom, personal responsibility, and success through sacrifice. I am made humble by the sacrifices of many, including those in my own family, and I recommit myself to the ideals of this great country. Every day I am driven by my gratitude for the price that has been paid for the freedoms we all enjoy as American citizens. 4. I believe in an America that reconceived the notion of what it means to be a human being and a citizen. This nation gave meaning to the rule of law and has—in its short life—paid every price, borne every burden, and sacrificed its blood and treasure to give hope, freedom, and prosperity to nations around the world. Americas generosity has brought means and hope to the darkest corners of the globe. 5. I believe in an America whose middle class enjoys a prosperity that far exceeds and outpaces that of all the nations of Western Europe combined. I believe in a nation that has produced the greatest wealth the world has ever known. 6. I believe in an America in which an immigrant with an eighth-grade education, who leaves his native land in search of opportunity, can make a successful and honorable life for himself and his family. I believe in a country that embraced and empowered my great-grandparents the moment they set foot on Ellis Island. 7. I believe in an America that has, along the way, made many mistakes and at times meted out injustices, and yet, in pursuit of a "more perfect union'" still strives to uphold its founding values of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and to embody gratitude, personal responsibility, and sacrifice so that today, more than yesterday, people are truly—and increasingly—equal and free.
Excerpted from RESCUE AMERICA by CHRIS SALAMONE GILBERT MORRIS Copyright © 2012 by CMS Media Group LLC . Excerpted by permission of Greenleaf Book Group Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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