The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was right when he said that in his inaugural address in 1933. His pronouncement is even more correct as we muddle toward the end of 2014.
The problem is that we as Americans today are confronting fear. And, fear is winning.
America used to be the land of the free and the home of the brave. It is becoming a country whose population is increasingly anxious and scared of even those shadows which we cast ourselves.
Ebola is the disease that captures the headlines right now. And, while it is a serious condition no doubt, the public's reaction to it is significantly disproportionate to the threat which it presents.
The truth is that Ebola it is just the most recent manifestation of the web of fear in which we are caught. Ebola is a symptom of a much deeper societal malaise that makes fearfulness the dominant response to factors beyond our control and/ or understanding.
It is a sad statement but many citizens are being socialized and taught to suspect and mistrust:
- Those who are different than they are in any way, shape or form
- Evidence and fact-based arguments
- Government at all levels
The 24 hour news cycle with only one legitimate hour of news-worthy information - the vast majority of it negative - recycled and repackaged as "breaking news" intensifies the fearful orientation.
The economy which has more than fully recovered for the 1 % but has left the vast majority of Americans much further behind than they were before the Great recession exacerbates the feeling of helplessness.
The shameful view of a Congress that doesn't and won't work and a Wall Street that doesn't care poisons the citizens' perspective.
The imagery of nameless and faceless terrorists in groups like ISIS committing unthinkable acts far away brings nightmares close to home.
Religion that is used as a battering ram to enforce compliance rather than as a tool for social justice reform tears at the social fabric.
The decline of small business start-ups which were the lifeblood of job creation creates the need for an entrepreneurial transfusion.
While a few fight for freedom, most Americans merely pledge allegiance and sing the national anthem at sporting events reducing defending democracy to a spectator sport.
This list of fear factors could go on. But, to sum it up and to coin a term, the United States is devolving into an "eboliant" nation. It used to be an ebullient one.
In the mid to later 20th century, the nation and its citizens defined themselves through joy, energy and ambition. "Can do" was the motto. Americans were dreamers who in many cases achieved their dreams.
It was the American era during the American century. During that peak period, American exceptionalism meant not only that we were different than other nations having been established by our founders with a pledge of equality and a commitment to the aspirations of the common man but also that the United States was a place where opportunities abounded and the sky was the limit in terms of the potential for individual success and achievement.
As we move toward the middle of the second decade of this 21st century, things and times have changed.
They began to change on 9/11 - that date which stripped America of its innocence and invincibility. Then, the Great Recession picked Americans' pockets and put a hole in their safety nets. Finally, the endless and rancorous political debates without any hint of compromise expunged bi-partisanship from the vocabulary and sucked the oxygen out of citizenship.
So, here we are in late 2014, in an eboliant state with the American psyche wounded and the concept of American exceptionalism in tatters.
The question becomes can America and Americans go back to where we were. The answer in spite of some who would want to reset the clock both politically and socially is an unequivocal no. Nor should we want to.
Once upon a time never comes again. Progress is made by looking and moving forward not by viewing the future through a rear view mirror.
These are definitely not the best of times. But they are also not the worst of times. They are the times in which we find ourselves.
We need positive and visionary 21st century leaders to remind us of that and to call upon us to rediscover our American spirit and sense of resolve. We need those leaders to work together to:
- Unite us rather than divide us
- Solve problems rather than place blame
- Inspire hope rather than spread fear
We need 21st century citizens willing to support those leaders by being:
- Interested: concerned about the common good and the American community
- Issues-oriented: focused on areas of civic and social relevance
- Informed: dedicated to gathering and analyzing objective data
- Independent: committed to exercising personal judgments
- Involved: engaged actively in addressing emerging issues of importance
We need 21st century leaders and citizens who remember Ronald Reagan's admonition:
I do not believe in a fate that will fall on us no matter what we do. I believe in a fate that will fall on us if we do nothing. So, with all the creative energy at our command, let us begin an era of national renewal.
National renewal is what is necessary now. Freedom from fear should be at the top of that renewal agenda - as should freedom from want, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion.
Those four freedoms provide the framework for realizing a vital and vibrant American democracy. They reaffirm the commitment to "creating a more perfect union" and the fact that the United States is a work in progress and a nation of being and becoming.
They move us out of the past beyond the present into the future - a future, to use baseball parlance, in which fear strikes out.
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