Saving America’s Soul – Uptown Neighborhood News Nov 2012

Commentary by Phyllis Stenerson, Uptown Neighborhood News, Minneapolis, MN November 2012 – expanded version with links to more information

We need to talk.

How did a nation founded on the vision of the inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all become one mired in gross inequality, obscene poverty and a corrupt political process? Opportunity for a bright future is being stolen from millions of innocent children.

Our nation’s founders brought together the best thinking of the time balancing faith with reason, materialism with moral values and the reality of struggle with the energy of hope.  For more than two hundred years the United States of America moved forward toward that dream and now we are going backward.

Democracy, one of the greatest ideas in history and the best form of government ever invented, has been corrupted by greed, fear, ignorance and lust for power. 

Our dignity and honor as a nation never came from our perfection as a society or as a people: it came from the belief that in the end, this was a country which would pursue justice as the compass pursues the pole: that although we might deviate,
we would return and find our path. This is what we must now do.
John Adams – second President of the United States

The founders were abundantly clear about their intent that America be a nation of ideals built on Enlightenment principles of reason and the values of compassion and empathy at the core of all world religions. They embedded freedom of, and freedom from, religion in our Constitution and clarified this country was not established as a Christian nation.

Religion and morality are necessary conditions
of the preservation of free government.
George Washington – first President of theUnited States 

So, what has happened to our moral compass and our common sense? It is fundamentally wrong that many millions of children live in poverty while a few thousand adults live with more wealth than anyone could ever need. There is a solid consensus among scientists that climate change is real with unimaginable consequences for the future. Why are we not addressing these crises?

The problem is awesomely complex but solutions are within reach. Democracy provides the framework for working through the problems and toward answers. The founders emphasized that for the democratic process to work an educated and involved citizenry with a commitment to honor was essential.

Out of all the components in this vast puzzle, an area that is seriously out of balance is the role of money and religion in politics.  These are topics that people are uncomfortable discussing but that need attention now.

The way in which a new conservative movement was built during the 1960s and 1970s to pull power away from the dominant liberal consensus is a fascinating study. The long term strategy included investing millions of corporate dollars into think tanks and communication networks. Conservatives created a “message machine” that changed hearts and minds to embrace a radically conservative worldview.

Social and cultural changes were utilized to serve the long term strategy. Turbulence of the time including theViet Namwar, Civil Rights Movement and hippie’s Summer of Love as well as women’s struggle for equal opportunity created fertile ground in which to grow new ideas. Many Americans were disgusted by the emerging lifestyles.

Leaders of the religious right developed organizations to strengthen a conservative Christian worldview and establish a power base called the Moral Majority.  By the early 1980s this grassroots movement was becoming known to religious and social scholars but most dismissed any possibility of it making a difference. Liberals did not articulate a progressive narrative to reinforce the liberal consensus. They organized around issues instead of a cohesive worldview.

A Supreme Court decision allowing legal access to abortion and introduction of the “Pill” strengthened the women’s movement but also provided the catalyst for the conservative movement to aggressively organize opposition to liberalism.

Fast forward to 2012 when conservative Christian extremists, a small segment of the population, had gained power to select the candidates to represent the Republican Party in the election of the President and Vice President of the United States. The party platform proposes draconian cuts to the social safety net, education, health, nutrition and other programs that provide access to opportunity for all. The Republican agenda would shift power from ordinary people to those already rich and powerful and destroy many of  the qualities that madeAmericagreat, and good.

America’s soul is in grave danger. This is what we need to talk about.

Phyllis Stenerson is a former Editor of the Uptown Neighborhood News who lives in CARAG. Context including an expanded version of this commentary with links to background information can be found at www.ProgressiveValues.org, the author’s website.

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