The United States faces a crisis of conscience in the coming years. Our turn toward isolationist policies lacking any consideration for global impact places us in a precarious position. We lost much of our international influence by exchanging it for almost total dependence on overwhelming military superiority.
While the ability to defend oneself is critical, the use of such strength as a bludgeon against both allies and enemies to bend to our will is a near-sighted policy. The rallying cry of the “patriot” is often the first step towards disaster.
We are smarter than that.
This confluence of “isms” in the US culminated with the election of Donald Trump and a sharp turn away from what this country once represented; strength wielded with compassion. While labels can only go so far in defining individuals and policies, they are generally used in a derogatory way or, when meant as a positive attribute, often absent a full understanding of their meaning.
It is important to know what one is promoting before embracing a myth.
Nationalism: identification with one’s own nation and support for its interests, especially to the exclusion or detriment of the interests of other nations. (Oxford Dictionary definition)
Militarism: the belief or desire of a government or people that a country should maintain a strong military capability and be prepared to use it aggressively to defend or promote national interests. (Oxford Dictionary definition)
Patriotism: the quality of being patriotic; devotion to and vigorous support for one’s country. (Oxford Dictionary definition)
Former Commandant of the United States Marine Corps and Medal of Honor recipient for Gallantry during the Battle of Tarawa in World War II, General David Monroe Shoup, had this to say about such philosophies.
“The battle successes and heroic exploits of America’s fine young fighting men have added to the military’s traditions which extol service, bravery, and sacrifice, and so it has somehow become unpatriotic to question our military strategy and tactics or the motives of military leaders.”
He went on to say about the growing American involvement in Vietnam,
“militarism in America is in full bloom and promises a future of vigorous self-pollination — unless the blight of Vietnam reveals that militarism is more a poisonous weed than a glorious blossom.”
One can easily see how those prescient words were both correct about our involvement in Vietnam (which Shoup opposed) and about our situation today.
The most mystifying thing about it is how a man like Mr. Trump, who avoided the draft, ridiculed those who serve, and denigrated those who died in the service of their country, became the poster child for all three, nationalism, militarism, and patriotism.
While each has a place in building and securing a nation, they also pose a danger when left uncontrolled by reason, rational policies, and compassion for our global society.
Then there are labels like socialism which are often thrown out as a threat to our capitalist system. A more thorough examination of the American form of government, one which reveals the true genius of the founding fathers, shows our government and economy are not pure capitalism.
Much of our success came from governmental intervention into the excesses of capitalism. Labor laws, workplace safety laws, collective bargaining, product liability, antitrust laws, all had a negative impact on profits for the higher purpose of protecting workers, consumers, and the environment.
The words “collective” bargaining itself carries socialist tendencies since it levels the playing field between the wealthy business owners and those whose labor makes the companies successful.
Social Security, Unemployment benefits, Disability benefits all provide support derived from the profits of a capitalist economy which otherwise would have been denied.
Our economy, like it or not, is a blend of capitalism and socialism. And Democratic Socialism–a philosophy that seeks to balance the downsides of a free market economy with fair treatment of labor–is not opposed to capitalism. It opposes excesses and provides a balance.
Here’s how the Oxford Dictionary and other sources describe it.
A social market economy is a free-market or mixed-market capitalist system, sometimes classified as a coordinated market economy, where government intervention in price formation is kept to a minimum, but the state provides significant services in areas such as social security, health care, unemployment benefits and the recognition of labor rights through national collective bargaining arrangements.
The social market economy refrains from attempts to plan and guide production, the workforce, or sales, but it does support planned efforts to influence the economy through the organic means of a comprehensive economic policy coupled with flexible adaptation to market studies. Combining monetary, credit, trade, tax, customs, investment and social policies as well as other measures, this type of economic policy aims to create an economy that serves the welfare and needs of the entire population, thereby fulfilling its ultimate goal (http://germanhistorydocs.ghi-dc.org/docpage.cfm?docpage_id=3415)
The fact is there are many countries who enjoy higher standards of living, better educational opportunities, better access to medical care, lower infant mortality (which relates to access to health care), and other benefits through social democratic reforms.
Norway, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Great Britain, Canada, the Netherlands, Spain, Ireland, Belgium, Switzerland, Australia, Japan, and New Zealand are just a few examples.
The American Experiment, an appropriate analogy since experiments adjust to new evidence, faces a critical moment. Do we revert to the harshness of a government that turns a blind eye to abuse of labor? Do we ignore the health needs of Americans because of pressures from those who place profits over people? Do we let the paroxysms of nationalism and militarisms mask the true nature of the American soul? Do we ignore the scientific evidence of climate change for the sake of profiteering from the demise of our world?
It is time for Americans to take a long, hard look at themselves before they lockstep off a cliff singing God Bless America in pursuit of a greatness that is a sham.
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