Let me explain. America is the greatest nation on earth, and arguably the greatest in the history of the earth. We lay claim to these titles not because we say are, but because of what we have accomplished, and by comparison to other nations and empires, HOW we have accomplished these things. I see the end of the Shuttle program and I see the end of America's ability to focus on something other than taxes and wealth.
From my perspective, there are a lot of things to complain about. We are frustrated by the way we are handling the debt ceiling, we are frustrated by the idea of balancing the budget on the backs of the poor, we are frustrated by attacks on labor and middle class wages, the list goes on and on. But it's not just about what we are doing as a nation that is the problem, perhaps it's what we are not doing that is our biggest problem. We are not dreaming big. In fact I would argue that we're not dreaming at all.
One of the qualities that makes America the great nation it is, is not just the willingness to take on the toughest of problems, but the determination and the ability to accomplish them. From Jamestown to the Apollo project, America has a history of doing the difficult, bordering on impossible. I firmly believe that we still have the ability to do anything that we set our collective minds to, but that seems to be the problem, do we still have the will, the determination? We have become so divided philosophically that I find myself wondering if we still possess a collective will, a collective determination to achieve anything.
In his speech announcing the death of Osama Bin Laden, President Obama said:
"And tonight, let us think back to the sense of unity that prevailed on 9/11. I know that it has, at times, frayed. Yet today's achievement is a testament to the greatness of our country and the determination of the American people.
The cause of securing our country is not complete. But tonight, we are once again reminded that America can do whatever we set our mind to. That is the story of our history, whether it's the pursuit of prosperity for our people, or the struggle for equality for all our citizens; our commitment to stand up for our values abroad, and our sacrifices to make the world a safer place.
Let us remember that we can do these things not just because of wealth or power, but because of who we are: one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
I find myself asking the question, is this what we are doing? Are we standing up for our values? Are we struggling for the prosperity for our people? Are we struggling for equality for all?
America showed it's true greatness when we put a man on the moon. The Apollo project was more than a technical achievement, it was more than beating the Russians to the moon. In one short decade we went from barely having been in space to setting foot on the moon. While we toiled, we suffered the loss of a President. While we toiled we struggled in the ongoing fight to win the cold war. While we toiled, Americans were fighting and dying in Vietnam. While we fought in southeast Asia, we fought and some of us died in American streets struggling for freedom. In the midst of all of this we still achieved greatness. We were not delayed, we were not intimidated by the intensity of the decade, we did not find convenient excuses, instead, we successfully sent men to the moon and returned them safely to the earth.
In our short history we had the will, determination and ability to go from King George to Martin Luther King, and transitioned from oppression of the crown to freedom for all people, of all genders and races. As we expanded the bounds of liberty we pushed the frontier of technology and industry. Steadily our power grew until finally at the end of the cold war we stood alone as the greatest nation on earth.
This and so many other things are our legacy as Americans. This is what those who came before us achieved. Perhaps it was that we as a nation had something to prove. We had something to prove to England, to Europe, to the world, to ourselves. Perhaps our need to prove that America could be a great power is what drove us to accomplish so much. Perhaps it is what drove us together as one nation.
The American legacy is one of turning the impossible into the doable, into the accomplished. Sadly, our modern legacy is to turn the doable into the impossible. Throughout history, we would have arguments about how best to do great things, now we have great arguments about how to do everything, with so many arguing that we should be doing nothing. Our goal is to tear down government. Our goal is to dismantle the safety net. Our goal is to undo while so much of what we have done slowly crumbles.
Distrust of government is a healthy American legacy that is derived from suffering under a king. But is distrust of the king's rule the same as outright hatred of the government of the people, by the people and for the people?
The modern republican party has become the party of no. They seek to ensure that we don't accomplish, that we don't do. For them success is in government's failure. By modern standards, Eisenhower, Nixon, even Reagan would be center left and would find it difficult to run for office within their own party. Shouldn't our love of nation, our love of each other trump our love of party? Shouldn't we be Americans first?
What is it that drives us to fight? What is the wedge that drives us apart as a nation?What is it that has moved a once great party to become the party of no? As a nation we have come to define ourselves by how much we make, rather than by what we have accomplished. Apollo and the Space Shuttle were not profit making ventures, nor was ending slavery, nor defeating HItler. Perhaps our true problem is in defining ourselves with things purchased rather than defining ourselves with things accomplished.
In our history, innovation and accomplishment of impossible goals have profited so many. Yet our modern innovation is to make profit itself the goal. In recent decades what have we set our minds to, what have we accomplished beyond profit? What can you point to that will leave it's mark in history? In just 200 short years have we become the great power seeking to exploit the far away lands as we sit comfortably in our homes reaping the benefits?
There must be more.
There must be more than argument for argument's sake.
There must be more than profit for profit's sake.
There must be more than stripping the middle class of the rights, wages and benefits they struggled to achieve.
There must be more than fighting to keep immigrants from crossing our borders to pursue their American dreams.
There must be more than giving corporations the rights secured for us by our founding fathers.
To be American is not to claim greatness but to actually achieve greatness. Will we be truly American or only claim to be American? What will we do? Will we cure cancer or produce more pills we should consult our physician to take? Will we be the first to set foot on Mars or will we remain content to set foot in the Wal-Mart we discovered by GPS? Will we reverse the accelerating global climate change and turn back the rising tides or will we simply drown with our heads in the sand? Will we finally learn to leverage the endless supply of free energy streaming down upon our planet each day or will we continue to drill holes in the ground looking for the sunlight from millions of years past? Will we fight for the rights of all people to food, shelter, water, healthcare and dignity, or will we fight to give more to the greediest among us?
Whatever we do we must do it quickly, before the last of the greatest generation take their leave and we can scarcely remember how it was to truly be Great Americans. We must dare to dream.