The U.S. is in critical need of defining what it is all about. What it stands for. What it’s role in the world is. Much more. The U.S. needs to define who “We” are. It needs a new We.
Consider healthcare as an example that evidences this need. The country’s politicians spent years debating a new healthcare system. We created and then passed “Obamacare.” Now we are debating whether Obamacare is the best solution, whether it should be improved, replaced, or just killed. But we never debated the basic premise issue: do we believe as a People that all those who consider themselves “Americans” should have access to healthcare? Do we? Do you remember that debate? I don’t. Some 33 million Americans – that’s 10.4 percent of the population – still today do not have health insurance coverage. And for all practical purposes, that means they don’t have access to healthcare. Is that what the American people want? Do the American people even consider the issue? Well, if we listen to all the political chatter, we never hear that question raised. We hear about what healthcare programs do to taxes, and the impact on small business, and what the role of the government should be. But we never hear a discussion about the basic premise: Should all Americans have access to healthcare. How can this nation have a real sense of who we are if we don’t even discuss that question?
If only healthcare were the only basic premise question that is not only unanswered but unasked. What about how the quality and usefulness of how we want our nation’s infrastructure? We all know our bridges are deteriorating. We have 30,000 miles of levees, 20,000 of which are in danger of collapsing. Our airports are out of date. The list can continue. Is that what the people want? Are we willing to accept a third world infrastructure? We debate a lot about how we might raise taxes or eliminate other programs to get the money to improve our infrastructure. But are we approaching that question with a real sense of what we actually want for our infrastructure? Do we want an infrastructure that will be safe and will “do” for now? Or, do we want a cutting edge infrastructure that will make us a global leader in a high-speed train system, or smart roads? Is a modern infrastructure even one of our priorities? We do not know because that question – that sort of question — isn’t even on our national agenda. What are we afraid of?
What about the U.S. position on the world stage? There was a time when the U.S. population widely believed that we should set the tone for the whole world. Preserve the global peace. Rush to the aid of those facing crisis times. Is that who “We” are now?
“The American Dream” will never stay the same from one generation to another. Times change and priorities and goals and standards change, too. But shouldn’t we be aware of those changes? Or should we just let them drift? Sometimes our core values can be clear simply because they exist – as in the case of our status as a capitalistic country. But sometimes our values change because we replace an accepted premise with a new premise that doesn’t make sense – isn’t understandable – isn’t intuitive. For example, what the hell does “leading from behind” mean? How can that be a core principle when we can’t define it? Sometimes our values are clear by virtue of our actions – and unclear by virtue of our inactions or constantly changing actions. For example, although we are quick to spout support for the “never again” philosophy when it comes to genocide, how do we act and not act and change our actions when we see plenty of examples of genocide in the world today?
Do we have any idea of who “We” are anymore? We talk about “American Exceptionalism.” OK. Do we have any shared sense among us of just what makes us exceptional? And are those things real or a myth or wishful thinking? And, if we listed what we thought were the components of “American Exceptionalism,” would there be widespread agreement?
Who are we? Who are “We”? If those questions aren’t asked and then if answers aren’t forthcoming, the U.S. can no longer assume the role it has assumed (or, at least, sought to assume) in the world, and for its own population. We need a new “We.” Now