Herb London: Who Are We?

Sep 25, 2013

Here is a question that haunts America today. The distinguished historian Samuel Huntington has an answer based on founding documents and a national creed. But the answer of a decade ago seems weak, almost feckless, in a nation transformed by demography, educational inadequacy and historical amnesia. I readily admit this “new nation” is a new nation I don’t understand and am at a loss to describe. But try I will in any case.

Culturally, America has been degraded. Even Rhythm and Blues seems like Mozart compared to dissonant Rap and its vile lyrics. Television programming has evolved, or is it devolved, from “Omnibus” to “Dexter” as the envelop of taste is pushed to ever new boundaries. Should anyone decry this development, he is put in the “prison” of First Amendment violator.

Schools have been converted into play pens and nurseries rather than centers of learning. Whatever deficiencies the Little Red Schoolhouse had, its students learned to read. How is it that with advanced technology and lavish expenditures, contemporary schools still produce illiterates? When did self esteem replace effort and rigor? I have encountered many students who tell me what they are capable of doing, but rarely do the work to accomplish their goals. There is the expectation that success is a function of willing it.

When did charity become an entitlement? The expansion of rights has come at the price of responsibility. Whatever happened to the aphorism “God helps those who help themselves?” During a Smallpox scare in the early ‘40’s my mother took me to a local hospital for the inoculation. As we were about to leave my mom asked the nurse “how much is the fee?” The nurse replied that since your son sleeps in the same bedroom as his parents – the standard for poverty  in that time – no fee is required. Rather than leave, my mom said “we do not take charity. I insist on paying.” After a meeting with the hospital attendant, she did. There was simply too much pride for her to accept a hand-out.

That spirit has evanesced as the government buys support and induces dependency with dozens of government programs that offer handouts. This is certainly not what the Founders meant by “the Land of The Free.” But from cell phones to food, from housing to computers, Uncle Sam is on the ready with “gifts.”

Without seeking phantoms to slay across the globe, presidents in the past recognized America’s moral and political role in world affairs. Sacrifices were made with blood and treasure to preserve world order. Now we have President Obama, a man who does not believe in the national missions of the past and, despite his denunciation of poison gas in Syria, has encouraged our once and future enemy – Russia – to dictate the terms of adjudication in the region. From hegemon to captive in merely five years.

Despite a racial divide in the nation’s history, extraordinary steps have been taken over the last half century to integrate blacks into every aspect of American life. To a degree unfathomable a generation ago, this effort has been successful. Surely it is not perfect, but what is?

Nonetheless, a cadre of race extortionists has emerged that foment racial antagonism for its own benefit. Rather than rely on the progress of racial programs, these “hustlers” seek out examples and often exaggerate events in order to enhance positions in their own community and play on the guilt of the white population eager for expiation. But can a nation riven by hatred find union? As long as the Reverend Sharpton, among others, can enlarge his bank account, the question is irrelevant. Unity is not good for his business.

Although political scandal is not new to American history with Harding, Cleveland and Kennedy coming to mind, it is hard to believe that admitted perverts would shamelessly run for two of the highest offices in New York City. It wasn’t long ago when perversity would foreclose on electability. In fact, those accused of such matters wouldn’t consider running. Of course, the two candidates lost in the primary. But the fact they received more than one percent of the vote suggests taboos are in retreat.

Whether it is dumbing down, decadence, excessive pride, dependency or the lack of leadership, the United States is undergoing profound change. I can’t say who we are, but I am sure it is not who we were. America, once the model of emulation, is a nation seen differently abroad and acting differently at home.

Herbert London is President of the London Center for Policy Research,  a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of the book The Transformational Decade (University Press of America). You can read all of Herb London’s commentaries at www.londoncenter.org

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