Opinion: America: Still the beacon of hope and freedom in the world?



Robert Thomas Young

Robert Thomas Young

Robert Thomas Young is a senior philosophy major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].

More than one in 10 Americans is out of work. Government is stalled, resulting in no effective legislation being passed or funded. Banks are still not lending money, and realty prices are still stagnant in most places across the country. While we have seen worse times, our current economic dilemma begs the question: Where is America heading?

Approximately 10 percent of Americans approve of Congress’ ability to lead our nation, according to a new CNN poll. Partisan politics have always been around, but this was not the same political landscape and temperature in the 1970s, the 1980s or even the 1990s. In fact, I don’t think that any time in U.S. history has seen such a stalemate of government.

It used to be that a politician had to put on a certain song and dance to get elected, but then went to work trying to better the lives of the people he or she represented. Now, clinging to absolute, all-or-nothing ideologies has frozen lawmaking. Both parties are guilty — one side obviously more than the other.

We are at an impasse, and I don’t think it is just a political deadlock or economic jam. There is something about our culture that, while technology and science move light-years away, our sense of morality and virtue is stagnant.

Much of our dilemma revolves around our social coordination and distribution of goods and services. In other words, we don’t share very well yet. It should strike anyone that something is wrong with a picture when some people have private jets and car elevators (for their multiple-floor garages), while more than 100,000 U.S. veterans are homeless and more than 30 million citizens remain unemployed.

The middle class is being squeezed, and the poor are, well, staying poor. Meanwhile, Exxon Mobile, British Petroleum and many unspeakable defense contractors are setting record profit margins never seen before in history. This system is simply not just or fair in any capacity.

The highest tax rate in the 1950s averaged 90 percent, and it was 70 percent in 1980 when Ronald Reagan took office. Our country is hemorrhaging money due to an inefficient and growing bureaucracy, an unnecessary arms buildup and an outright refusal to tax wealthy people.

Personally, I think we need leaders with the mind and tenacity of President Franklin Roosevelt, who was progressive enough to move past the status quo and really challenge America to be better than our predecessors.

Change is needed, and bold ideas similar to those incorporated in the past during times of conflict and economic upheaval, such as national highways, national parks, social security and increased police and firefighters, can serve as inspirations for the next wave of societal change. Our system is broken, and small changes will not serve as anything more than a bandage would on a broken arm.

Above all else, virtue is needed in our political system as well as our culture in general. In “The Republic,” Plato writes that a just society depends on just individuals, and just individuals are shaped by a just society. Our leaders should engage the public with this mentality.

During World War II, our country came together as Americans, not as greedy, self-interested individuals. Automakers shut down to make fighter planes and tanks. Women flooded into the workplace to keep the country running. That was the American spirit that inspired the rest of the world.

It is time to stop addressing the country as if we can achieve all our goals without some personal sacrifice, such as using less energy, buying locally from American companies and getting a higher education, even if it isn’t easy. Oh yeah, asking rich people to quit being so rich wouldn’t be the worst idea either.

If we are to make it past our current system of inequality and economic chaos, then we must realize that we can accomplish many times more together what we could accomplish as individuals. Leadership entails leading people based on what is right and moral and not on what is expedient and agreeable.

Through a renewed sense of virtue, I honestly do think the American people can again become the beacon of hope and freedom in the world, but some major economic, political and cultural changes will be necessary.