We Are Entering a New Political Era, and We Need an Educated Public to Deal with It
Like China during the Cultural Revolution, the cultural shift in the United States over the last thirty years has created a significant void in the talent required to shift this country into the 21st economy. Clearly, we stand at a crucial point in our history as a nation. We are a house divided by race and economics but, most importantly, divided by those who mistrust the very institutions that were created to protect us. There is a staggering division between those who believe that government was created to protect the common good and insure domestic tranquility, and those who have utter mistrust. For thirty years, the ideologues in power convinced the very people who need a strong and competent government to protect them that government was evil. This ideal ultimately gave power to group who relentlessly worked against these people.
A generation of Americans has grown up hearing messages that government is evil, that a “hands-off” government gives them freedom. Meanwhile, the government was really taking away those freedoms. We no longer had a government that protected us from the abuses of powerful corporations that were willing to foul our air and water while creating a financial system that placed greed over economic well-being. Over the last thirty years, our national education policy has been more concerned with producing ideologues than creating scientists and critical thinkers. This “cultural” entity tried to turn schools into factories for reciting information for tests that were based on religious dogma and conservative ideology. The best and the brightest in the conservative movement were shuttled through colleges like Regent University (whose tagline is “Christian Leadership to Change the World”) to find their way into positions of influence in the Judicial Department, the EPA and the White House.
Recently, hope arrived when what many thought would take a generation to overcome appeared to turn the corner on November 4th, 2008. As Obama and his administration now struggle with our near dead economy, they are valiantly trying to jump-start everything that will bring us some sort of stability as we approach the second decade of the 21st century. Historians and pundits are comparing this period to the 1930’s and the birth of the New Deal. However, while there are many comparisons to this period in terms of economic pain, we really need to look further back to understand why today’s challenges are compounded. To fully appreciate the massive challenge Obama faces, we need to look at the Reconstruction of America after the Civil War. It is not merely that Obama and Lincoln came from Illinois that connects the two leaders. When Obama makes references to Lincoln, it is with the understanding that they both came to the Presidency with a country divided.
After the Civil War, re-educating the country was the only option for moving us forward. At that time, communication was not at lightening speed and we have an amazing opportunity to realize, today, that the missing piece here is a focus on education. We need to return to teaching scientific freedom and critical thinking. With a pragmatist as our President, we need to be reassured that teaching this generation of young people how to think, not what to think, will bring our country back into the light. We need to stop listening to people who mislead and spew hate for their own profit, at the expense of productive dialogue that is required to find solutions to our shared responsibility to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow. We cannot talk our way out of this mess like Rush Limbaugh and the Republicans in Congress want to do. It needs bold action and real leadership and we are fortunate to have someone in the White House who is smart enough to know, not only how bad things are, but also how good we can be if we take the right steps. This crisis will only get better if we are willing to accept personal responsibility for helping to fix what is broken and make sacrifices for those in greater need then ourselves. It is not about an ideology based on believing in magic, but a real understanding of what hard work and dedication to serving each other means for a society to prosper. It is E Pluribus Unum.
As we face the challenges of Reconstruction 2009 we need to make sure we think as broadly as we can. While taking into account our short-term needs, we need to have a vision as to the legacy we are creating for our children and grandchildren. We need to re-educate a generation of people who truly believed that government was our enemy as opposed to an institution that exists for the common good. We need to overcome fear and distrust and replace it with caring and compassion. We are one nation and one world and are all connected to a common ancestor that needs to share a belief that what is good for one, should be good for all.