I suppose it’s one of the rites of passage of growing older that you become more and more certain the world is going to hell in a handbasket. It seems like every day I am more convinced that our country is experiencing an unmistakable decline in collective intelligence and moral fiber and following the news only confirms that conviction.
Early this week, for instance, I read about the latest unsettling results of a poll called the General Social Survey. This poll has been conducted every year since 1972 by the University of Chicago and is designed to give a broad-based picture of current American attitudes on a wide range of topics. According to the 2014 edition of the poll, a majority of Americans apparently believe that their government should be spending more money on things that they personally benefit from. But they also believe that they pay too much in taxes and that their tax burden should be reduced. Can you see the problem here?
Surely most Americans are at least dimly aware that our government is running huge deficits already and that lower taxes and increased spending will only bring us to financial ruin more quickly. But my guess is that they aren’t against tax increases or spending cuts in general, they just oppose anything that hits them in the pocketbook.
America seems to be neck-deep in this “every man for himself” state-of-mind. Calling ourselves the United States sort of seems like a misnomer these days, doesn’t it? Partisanship is nothing new, but the level of enmity between the left and the right seems to have reached a point of no return. The moderates in both parties, the ones who used to be able to reach across party lines and get things accomplished in a divided government, are all but extinct. It’s gotten so bad that we now have a president and Congress who are feuding with one another on the world stage. I never thought I’d live to see the day when our Congress would send a letter to a foreign government with the goal of short-circuiting ongoing treaty negotiations being carried out by the president, but here we are.
It’s one thing to fight internally, but a family should never air its dirty laundry out in public. It makes you look divided and weak. I have no doubt that is how the world sees us right now. A lot of people I know (most of whom are very conservative, given where I live and work) blame all of our current problems on the president. I can guarantee you that I will get responses to this column that castigate me for suggesting that the fault for the mess in Washington falls on both parties and not just of the evil, liberal, closet-Muslim who lives in the White House.
Partisans on the left are no better. They contend that the president could be doing so much more for the country if the elitist, misogynistic middle-aged white men who run the GOP weren’t dead-set on opposing and vilifying his every move to score points with their conservative base.
It’s a sad spectacle, but we are mistaken to blame President Obama or Congress for this unseemly situation. The real problem is us. Our government is just a reflection of what we have become -- self-centered and self-righteous. Most of us think that our side is the one and only right side, and that those on the other end of the political spectrum are not only wrong but innately evil.
Many of us don’t seem to consider ISIS or Russia to be the biggest threat to our future. They believe the real threat is the people in our own country who support the wrong party.
Although no shots are being fired (yet), we have definitely once again become that “house divided against itself” that President Abraham Lincoln warned us about all those years ago. I am not sure what form it will take, but I believe a lesson in humility is in America’s near future, and we will only have ourselves to blame when it happens.
Bill Ferguson is a resident of Warner Robins. Readers can write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.