America, I think, is not a place. If another people lived here, the geography would be the same but it would not be our nation.
America, I think, is not a government. Our pendulum swings from one extreme to the other and our politics are not unique.
America, I think, is not an economy. Free markets exist in other nations and we hold no patent on capitalism.
America is a people, an outlook and a family. (A dysfunctional family, yes, but aren’t they all?)
Eighty-three years ago the American son was a swaggering youth with glinting eye, proud of his muscle and chin held high. Mark Twain wrote about his American strut in a 1926 letter from Europe to President Calvin Coolidge: “We, unfortunately, don't make a good impression collectively… There ought to be a law prohibiting over three Americans going anywhere abroad together.”
Saul Bellow, in his Adventures of Augie March, gave our American boy a voice during the Great Depression: “I am an American, Chicago born – Chicago, that somber city – and go at things as I have taught myself, freestyle, and will make a record in my own way: first to knock, first admitted; sometimes an innocent knock, sometimes a not so innocent.”
America. Land of Opportunity. A chicken in every pot and a car in every driveway. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Hard work never killed anybody. Cream rises to the top. Second place is the first loser. You can do it.
And we did. “Leaders of the free world, liberators of the oppressed,” we’re less than 5 percent of the world’s population yet consume 26 percent of its energy and 30 percent of its resources.
A few years later Anne Morrow Lindbergh, wife of that ocean-crossing hero, began to worry that things were getting out of balance: “America, which has the most glorious present still existing in the world today, hardly stops to enjoy it, in her insatiable appetite for the future.”
John Steinbeck echoed Anne’s words. “Then there is the kind of Christmas with presents piled high, the gifts of guilty parents as bribes because they have nothing else to give. The wrappings are ripped off and the presents are thrown down and at the end the child says – ‘Is that all?’ Well it seems to me that America now is like that second kind of Christmas. Having too many THINGS they spend their hours and money on the couch searching for a soul. A strange species we are. We can stand anything God and Nature can throw at us save only plenty. If I wanted to destroy a nation, I would give it too much and I would have it on its knees, miserable, greedy
John Steinbeck was immediately accused of being a Communist sympathizer.
America didn’t listen to Anne or John but became more intense in the pursuit of whatever it was we were chasing.
“Go to college. Get good grades. Go to college. Rise to the top. Go to college. Enjoy the good life.”
Eighteen years ago Faith Popcorn wrote in her famous Popcorn Report, “The trouble in corporate America is that too many people with too much power live in a box (their home), then travel the same road every day to another box (their office).”
Charles Osgood spotlighted this disconnection on CBS Sunday Morning, March 30, 2008, “The average urban dwelling American sees up to 5,000 advertising 'messages' –from T-shirts to billboards – every day. That compares with 2,000 thirty years ago.” [Source: Yankelovich, Inc.]
Wow. No wonder we’ve become a nation of consumers. With 5,000 messages hammering us every day, we hardly have time to think about anything else.
And now it’s 2009. The whole planet waits to see whether America has the strength, the wit and the will to correct our mistakes. They wait because the economy of the world depends on whether we're able to buy the stuff they need to sell us.
The solution appears to be that the world needs better ad writers.
Roy H. Williams
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