America has always been a nation driven by the unbridled imagination of its citizenry. In our first two centuries when we saw something we could improve, we acted to do so often without asking permission. The declarative mindset was, “We the people” can do better. Of course, there is a fine line between ambition and hubris but, for the most part, our unique and enduring concoction of courage and optimism—expressed through our imaginations—has served us well. This particular elixir of positivity—that all things imagined are indeed possible—has contributed mightily to a special brand of exceptionalism that produced the greatest empire of the modern era that has led the cause of freedom in the world for seven decades.
In the last twenty years, there has been a slow degradation of this national disposition that made America the imagination nation. It began with the ill-fated War on Terror in 2003; a fear-based reflex to 9/11 fueled by hubris and justified by lies or, as those inside the Beltway might prefer: “politicized intelligence.” Then that skinny black guy with the funny name—Barack Hussein Obama—tried to lift us back up to the pinnacle of hope and imagination only to be sidelined by fearful old pudgy white guys with common names who felt they were losing control of the America where they pulled all the levers and turned all the dials across politics, economics, and society. Fear of dispossession is indeed a powerful thing.
Then, as if on cue, arrived a reality TV show host with fabricated hair, tan, and wealth to convince us, as he claimed in his inaugural address, that the America that had led the world as a beacon of freedom since World War II was in a state of “carnage.” And, as he would remind us over and over, only he could fix it as he lined his pockets and those of his family members and closest allies with ill-gotten financial gains. His Republican predecessor president, George W. Bush, tried to warn us as he left the inauguration that January day from the east side of the Capitol when he suggested, “Well, that was some weird shit.”
The carnage that Trump envisaged did indeed arrive during his presidency. He promised it and he delivered. No democratic institution escaped his wrath culminating in an attempted coup d’état in January 2021. Of course, during this time America and the world also endured one of the greatest existential threats in a century: the Covid-19 pandemic. The pandemic was indeed a crisis but, as with all crises, it also represented an opportunity for America to exercise its courage and optimism to lead the world to contain the virus and heal its victims. But, thanks to Trump and those who had found new power based in fear and anger and division, America took the low road abdicating its position of leadership in the world and propelling the American empire into a tailspin. Meanwhile, adversaries like Vladimir Putin saw an opportunity in America’s meltdown to attempt to reestablish of the long-ago Russian empire. Unfortunately, we all—including both political parties—have largely embraced this simplistic, binary, and highly toxic disposition of us versus them, zero-sum thinking, which is completely contrary to what truly made America great during its first two centuries.
So, here we are. What now?
In the last six years, the American character has collapsed in on itself; it has imploded. Rather than rising up to face our many challenges we have allowed the spirit that made America great to be driven into a ditch by selfishness, deceit, and hubris.
We cry, “Why me?” when we should be exclaiming, “Why not?”
We accept the status quo when we should be forcing our so-called leaders to follow us to a better tomorrow. Very few Americans want either Trump or Biden as their next president but, as of today, most of us shrug our shoulders as if there is nothing we can do. We express outrage as Putin annihilates Ukrainian innocents then watch with a stunning sense of hypocrisy as an ally, Netanyahu of Israel, does the same to innocent Palestinians with American weaponry. We watch as drug companies extort profits while causing the premature opioid-deaths of thousands of Americans and we blame the dead. We have the most expensive and least effective healthcare system in the developed world and we sit in the waiting rooms of medical facilities across the country and just take it. We allow our children to be slaughtered by assault rifles and instead of addressing the obvious problem of way too many guns in America, we express our concern for the protection of an archaic and poorly worded amendment to our Constitution. All while Nature is screaming in our faces that she will rid the earth of us as soon as she can if we don’t act to curb our addiction to fossil fuels, and to the growth we have wrongly convinced ourselves is essential to our continued well-being.
The time has come to dust ourselves off and get out of the ditch. To accept nothing less than what our imaginations can conjure. To reject outright those who spew fear and anger and division. To hold each other and ourselves to the standards of the America that looked slavery in the eye in the mid-nineteenth century, and fascism in the eye in the mid-twentieth century, and fought with undaunting determination to claim the higher ground of freedom—not only for ourselves but for all of humanity. Yes, we can do hard things.
Today, I would like to declare a National Look-in-the-Mirror Day. Now is the time for every American to look in the mirror and ask themselves, “Why not?”