“U.S.A…..U.S.A.!” the drunk college student behind me chanted. “Yeah, America!” a slurring girl a few feet away followed with. The fireworks exploded over the National Mall in all their pomp and glory. I was standing on the corner of Constitution and 20th Street, watching the annual 4th of July extravaganza. People were in the streets, gayly enjoying the display and beaming with American pride.
I’ll admit the display was impressive. The federal government, being its profligate self, pulls out all the stops when it comes to putting on a half-hour light show. As I stood watching the spectacle, I couldn’t help thinking that the fireworks display was symbolic of America’s current trajectory toward base showmanship. Every firework, each burst of light, exploded fantastically before plummeting to the ground.
The short ride up, followed by a dazzling “pop” and then a slow arc downward to nothingness really seems to be the American story. And right now we’re at the moment Walker Percy described as “the sudden jerking ahead of the roller-coaster cars as the chain catches hold and carries us back into history with its ordinary catastrophes…” Oh well, at least it was a fun ride while it lasted.
With another Independence Day behind us, I have to ask: as America turns 239-years-old, is the country still worth celebrating?
The Supreme Court’s recent rulings on ObamaCare and gay marriage were illuminating for a number of reasons, the most important being my realization of how thin-skinned our nation has become. The rule of law lost out to sympathetic adjudication in the case deciding the fate of the Affordable Care Act. With same-sex marriage, two centuries of public recognition of man and woman complimentarity was replaced by feel-good contractualism. This fracas was preceded by the incredibly juvenile outrage over the Army of North Virginia’s flag.
In the span of one week, America went from a place where liberalism sparingly accepted dissent to one where disagreement is no longer allowed. For now on, if you split with the outrage mob, your livelihood is at stake. The Dukes of Hazard is off the air. Tax-exempt status for churches is in danger. Christian colleges may lose federal funding. Hell, you can’t call someone a pussy anymore without fearing for your job.
In witnessing the rise of snivelling beta male ethics, it should cause all God-loving, patriotic men to question if things went south (perhaps north to the Acela Corridor in this instance) not because the American Spirit failed but because it was never meant to succeed in the first place. Perhaps the Constitution is an inherently flawed document. And maybe liberalism, in the classic sense, can’t last in the long run. Was the tyranny of political correctness always in the cards for our country?
For conservatives, there are two schools of thought when it comes to the meaning of America’s founding. Author Damon Linker calls one school the “theocons” and the other “radical” traditionalists. The first group thinks religious (mainly Catholic) ethics are firmly intertwined with modern America. They really do see America as man’s last hope for freedom from despotism. The latter group views America’s unique constitutional foundations as rubbing up harshly against “religious, moral, or communal restraints.” For the radicals, Linker writes, “American history, in this light, is a story of the individual’s ever-increasing liberation from any and all limits — be they economic, social, or sexual.”
I’ll take it one step further for team “radical”: the explicit annunciation of “the pursuit of happiness” in the Declaration of Independence puts hedonistic joy over all else. It doesn’t allow for a plurality of opinions. Instead, it inexorably leads to the ideology of choice and freedom devoid of limits. For conservatives that value a moral-driven way of life, this is problematic. Because free choice is limited by societal mores, it becomes necessary to abolish all public conventions. Hence, we see the crazed censoring of pro-traditional marriage beliefs and defenses of the Confederacy. The next step, which is already beginning to crop up, is the malicious denunciation and purging of alternative opinions from public life.
The United States has entered an era where liberty is reversed. We used to be able to tell dirty jokes in private while public behavior was properly limited by well-understood norms. Now we have the opposite. Public behavior is more unhinged than ever, and private speech is heavily stifled. This pogrom of crude-but-true witticisms is aimed at erasing what Murray Rothbard called “one of the great charms of social intercourse.” I’ve long thought that people who turn their nose up at dirty jokes are mini-Stalins. Sir Tim Hunt’s sacking is proof-positive of my hunch.
If the sensitivity trend continues, I fear what will happen for liberty in America. Sure, gays will have their relations sanctified by the state, but what will happen to beauty created by individuals with the freedom to think openly and critically about life? Orwell once wrote that the “destruction of intellectual liberty cripples the journalist, the sociological writer, the historian, the novelist, the critic, and the poet, in that order.” The new America may lose To Have and to Have Not, but at least we’ll have Fifty Shades of Grey. For a country slowly killing its past self, it’s fitting that sadism dominates the bestseller chart.
If diagnosing the country’s sickness was simple, the cure should be just as easy, right? Wrong. Liberalism has brought America to the brink of sanity, but it also provides the only means for survival. As Jeff Guhin points out, the economic prosperity wrought by liberalism is too tantalizing to give up for most people. Conservatives are at an impasse. They can choose to stand together and suffer in communities of their own making, while praying that the social justice barbarians don’t breach the gate. Or they can suck it up and work within the system to provide food for their families while keeping their traps shut on social matters. If given a choice, Guhin is right that we’d “rather be autonomous individuals than rooted in communities.” So maybe conservatives are stuck, and must hunker down to weather the dark storm of moral relativism.
The truth must be faced: The Greatest Generation in America has given way to the rule of weaklings and losers. Spectacular fireworks and congressional saber-rattling don’t hide the fact that America is a wimpy nation. It’s no wonder Vladimir Putin thinks he can face down the West and Islamic terrorists believe they can defeat the U.S. military. The president congratulates a sick man on lopping off his genitals. The media fawns over any acts of romantic love, no matter how depraved. Is this really the kind of behavior fitting for a country that’s supposed to act like Mr. Feeny in charge of a class of Biffs?
(Only in America do mixed metaphors based on 90s pop culture work!)
I love America for one reason and one reason alone: it’s my home country. I was born and raised here, and I feel most comfortable among my people. My friends may no longer feel at ease telling crude, bigoted jokes, but I don’t feel compelled to abandon ship yet. We’ve lost the title of “The Land of the Free and Home of the Brave,” but I can live with that for now.
May God bless America? Of course. Then again, Gomorrah received God’s blessing, in a manner of speaking. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. But with every micro-outrage promenading through popular culture, I increasingly welcome the possibility.
In the meantime, we can enjoy the fireworks, and perhaps support Donald Trump’s bid for the White House.