Americans stopped briefly Monday to honor our veterans with Memorial Day services around the country. With that in mind, and as we approach the 10-year anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, I have a question. Where have all the flags gone?
In Arianna Huffington's book, How to Overthrow the Government, she discussed participation in the American democracy. She said, "Only a catalytic leader or a cataclysmic event can move the people to action." This book has a copyright date of 2000. Since that year, we have witnessed both a cataclysmic event occur and a catalytic leader rise to the presidency. Both temporarily moved the people to action.
In the months and even in the first few years following those acts of terrorism on 9/11, Americans proudly displayed the stars and stripes. Most homes and businesses had flags flying. The attacks moved and unified Americans, as we hadn't been for decades. It was a wake-up call for the sleeping giant, and it ignited a fire in our hearts that fueled a new sense of pride and unity in America. It was a good feeling. We seemed to recognize that we are in this together. At many public gatherings over the next year or so, participants loudly chanting "USA, USA, USA!" followed the singing of the National Anthem. I can remember the chills I got as I began a 10-mile road race that kicked off with a group of marines leading us, carrying the American flag.
In 2008, that catalytic leader Arianna talked about in the book stepped up. Obama talked about change, and America cried loud and clear that they wanted things to change. We went from a country where slavery was once commonplace to a country that elected a president whose father is black. The attitude and atmosphere were different. People who never participated before wanted to help bring about change. We again talked about possibilities. Again, a fire was ignited in the hearts, and now was the time to move America forward.
What happened to the changes? What happened to the fire in the hearts? What happened to the flags?
I am convinced that America was ready for change. I am convinced that this was the time for change. I am troubled that our political leaders seem to be fighting to keep their world as it has been for decades. Because of their divisive attitudes, after both 9/11 and the 2008 election, it didn't take long for the political world to return to the status quo. Party line votes were again the rule. The challenges and the issues were again unimportant. It was once again no longer about the people. It returned to being about politics and party.
The key to our future involves the politicians recognizing that they must change. The biggest change we need is a shift from ugly partisan politics to a nonpartisan mentality. We aren't supposed to agree on everything, but if we don't work together, we will continue to die a slow death.
Charles P. Pierce, in his book Idiot America, pointed out, "In the first place, after the initial shock of the attacks wore off, no medium was more instrumental than talk radio in the destruction of the unity forged by those attacks." Both the television and radio commentators found a gold mine. News commentary took another step away from reporting news and went much deeper into the world of pure entertainment. They have found it much more profitable than reporting the news. In the current environment, both politicians and self-proclaimed news pundits are spending most of their time trying to frighten, breed hatred, and create divisions among Americans. For within those words that stir up the public, they find ratings and dollars. The continued use of these tactics will only prolong the pain we currently feel as Americans. As long as opposing sides on all the important issues facing our country continue to fight like adolescent schoolyard bullies, we will be unable to move forward. The only winners will be the networks, because controversy helps their ratings.
Maybe it is a time for all Americans, especially politicians and news commentators, to take a lesson from the Amish. The Amish world is one of peace, humility, and community. A building block of the Amish society and value system is known as Gelassenheit. There is not a direct translation from the German to the English language, but as I understand it, it is often understood to mean giving up self for community. Our veterans understand the concept of Gelassenheit. They are willing to give everything for their country and their community. Having the rest of our country understand and adopt the idea of Gelassenheit might be our only chance to change, to reignite the fires, and to bring back the flags.