Remembering September 12th: Can Morning in America Dawn Anew?

Ronald Reagan’s famous “Morning in America” campaign commercial heralded the end of a long dark night in America’s common life.  By 1984, we had endured the malaise of the Carter years, the 1979 energy crisis, the Iranian hostage crisis, stagflation, and unemployment that remained in double-digits for ten months.  Yet the economy was growing again in leaps and bounds.  Unemployment was falling swiftly.  After the moral confusion and generational chaos of the 1960s, and the corruption and malaise of the 1970s, America was regaining its sense of self-assurance.  The campaign ad celebrated that we could, once more, “look forward with confidence to the future.”

A different kind of morning in America dawned ten years ago on September 12th.  A band of hate-filled murderers had boarded four commercial airliners the day before and steered them into the Pentagon, into two skyscrapers teeming with innocent civilians, and would have done the same — but for the actions of a small band of heroes — into the Capitol or the White House.  All day long, we had watched in horror and grief, fascination and dread, as our assurance of our own national security and strength was shattered.

It’s good and proper to remember 9/11 on its tenth anniversary.  Acts of unthinkable heroism unfolded on that day.  But September 12th was no less extraordinary, for that’s when we began to dig our way out.  September 11th represents an assault upon our nation, and the mind-bending courage of the first responders who climbed those towers to save the dying and paid the ultimate price.  September 12th represents a commitment to soldier on, a commitment not only to respond to the evil zealots who had long since declared war against us, but a commitment, after suffering a devastating blow, to rebuild a safe and flourishing society.  On the morning of September 12th, Americans awoke from their rest, remembered what had happened the day before, and then shouldered the burden of grief and carried on.

But the September 12th project is not complete.  In many ways, the day that dawned on September 12th has been a gray one.  I will always be grateful to President Bush for his leadership in the immediate aftermath of the atrocity.  Although I disagreed with the Bush administration’s big-government tendencies, I still believe they took many right steps in response to 9/11.  The middle Bush years were in some respects relatively bright: the economy grew, the terrorist network was degraded, and the homeland was kept secure.  Yet now those years feel like borrowed time.  Corrosive elements that predated the Bush administration were at work beneath the surface, consuming the pillars of our society, economy and government.

In other words, our self-inflicted wounds are far graver than anything al-Qaeda dealt us.  The deepest problems we’ve faced over the past decade have had little to do with 9/11.  So our response to 9/11 could not fix them.  While we were fighting (rightly) against the challenge that 9/11 presented, other challenges went unrecognized and unopposed.  In fact, those deeper problems fed upon 9/11 and were exposed by it.

For one thing, the economic expansion of the past two decades floated on the gossamer-thin surface of the dot.com, housing and financial bubbles.  The growth of deficit spending that seemed sustainable in the bubble-boom years is now reckless and dangerous.  The incestuous relationship between government and public employee unions, and the courting of the aged and the poor with promised entitlements we could not afford to deliver, have led to mountains upon mountains of federal, state and municipal debt.  9/11 did not cause these problems, but it did add military and national security costs on top of our other federal obligations, and the post-9/11 stock market plunge warned of the fragility of our globally integrated financial system.

At the same time, changes in our media and political systems have balkanized the American public into hermetic enclaves of hyper-partisanship.  Hyper-partisans can receive their news, commentary and community exclusively from sources that confirm their worst prejudices and suspicions.  I know some of my fellow conservatives don’t believe the partisanship we see today is unprecedented, and perhaps unprecedented goes too far.  Our system of government depends on creative opposition, checks and balances, and the competition of ideas makes us stronger.  Yet there are creative and destructive forms of opposition, opposition that is loyal not only to the country we share but to our fellow Americans with whom we share it.

9/11 did not cause this hyper-partisanship, either, but the hyper-partisanship fed upon it.  Remember the “little Eichmanns” in the Twin Towers?  “Bushitler” assassination porn?  The 9/11 Truthers?  The “Texas barbecue” where the case for the Iraq war was “cooked up”?  “Torture chambers reopened under new management”?  Soldiers killing innocents “in cold blood”?  Or the suggestions that Bushitler had Osama bin Laden holed up somewhere and would announce his “capture” right before the 2004 election?  And let’s not forget the Far-Lefties who said that “King George” would never give up control of the country.  This kind of paranoid hatred was then echoed in the Birther movement — and, although I don’t find it in the Tea Party movement as a whole, one hears its echoes in the claims that Obama is deliberately destroying the economy in order to usher in true socialism.  Now again one finds it in the lavish loathing and hatred for Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, and the Tea Party.  Indeed the hatred of the Tea Party is now so exaggerated and delusional that one finds conversations blaming the Tea Party for lost wages and lost jobs, or saying that hatred of Tea Partiers is just as justified as hatred of Nazis — or accusing the Tea Partiers of wanting to “burn the whole thing to the ground” — or saying they want to lynch black people — or in Vice Presidents calling them “terrorists” and “barbarians” and Congresswomen telling them to “go straight to hell.”

Deception and caricature harm the cause of an educated electorate.  The Truther and the Birther, for instance, occupy entirely different worlds, not only with different opinions but with different “facts,” and each sees the other as the enemy.  This kind of hatred makes us weaker and less resilient in the face of challenges.  It’s hard to rebuild your society when your hands are at each other’s throats.

Yet I would not be so worried about our economic and political problems if I were confident that we had the moral, cultural and spiritual resources to respond to them.  On the one hand, we’ve developed a culture that’s thin on the virtues of industry, integrity and self-sufficiency, and thick with passivity, entitlement and resentment.  Where those who suffered hardships were once admired when they avoided welfare or received it only briefly, now they’re admired who soak the system for all it’s worth.  A free-market economy functions well when it’s undergirded and propelled by the Judeo-Christian work ethic, but we’ve grown fat and complacent, more interested in watching the next Extreme Home Makeover than we are in starting businesses and building companies that provide for our families and employ others.  To make matters worse, just when we need strong family units that can better weather the tough times, we have high rates of divorce and delinquent dads, single parents and children with cohabiting couples.

On the other hand, even as our economic and family virtues have waned, so have our patriotic virtues.  Passive voices of doom and gloom dominate the headlines.  America, they say, is beset with insoluble problems.  Our prosperity and our influence are doomed to diminish.  Our markets are fixed in inexorable decline.  We can neither defeat our enemies in Afghanistan nor match the rise of the Chinese.  Our culture has grown insipid and attenuated.  Apparently there is nothing for Americans to do but bow their heads and accept their fate.

Since when have Americans been the victims of circumstance?

We’ve lost confidence in ourselves as a nation, partly because we no longer believe in each other.  We’re not defeated, but we are defeatist.  Instead of fortitude we have fatalism.  Perhaps most worrisome, when we are faced with problems we look to the government for solutions.  It was not the government that made America great; it was the character and creativity and moral culture of her people.

It’s no secret where this declinism comes from.  Many of my former colleagues in academic circles openly yearned for a humbling of the United States.  They saw America as a blundering bully on the international blacktop, a kind of callow jock whose brawn far outstripped his brains, and whose actions around the globe were disrupting local cultures, exploiting cheap labor and resources, degrading the environment, and exporting consumerism and cheap culture and rapacious capitalism.

I wonder: America is stumbling now — do they like what they see?  With tens of millions unemployed or underemployed or giving up and leaving the work force?  With European markets teetering on the edge of disaster, and world markets sure to tank if America enters a depression?  Or with the rise of a superpower in China that has no concern for human rights, animal rights or the environment?  It’s easy to yearn for the mighty to fall until you see just how much stood upon their shoulders, and just how much will fall with them.

The problems described above are real — but I still believe in this country.  I don’t mean that we have a unique covenant with God that will always preserve us.  I mean that if we honor the values and principles that God has given us, our society will flourish.  Our challenges are great, but so is our heritage.  For many decades the United States has been the greatest engine of economic growth in the world.  It’s been the greatest champion of democracy and human rights the world has ever seen.  It’s largely driven the last century’s astonishing, life-saving advances in science and medicine.  And it helped to end the Nazi and Fascist threats in World War 2, helped contain the spread of a political ideology (communism) that takes a catastrophic human toll wherever it is tried, and still casts a security umbrella where nations are safe over vast swaths of the globe.

Can we have another September 12th now, and dig out of the trouble we’re in today?  I don’t believe that decline is inevitable.  Neither should you believe it.  It’s no accident of history that America has succeeded on so extraordinary a scale.  Our economic and democratic system have proven remarkably effective.  But it is no given, either, that America will succeed again.  It will depend, as it always has, first upon the will of God and second upon the character, the courage and the ingenuity of the American people.  The question is whether we can reclaim the strengths and the virtues that made the American heritage possible.

The resources within our cultural inheritance are more powerful than the challenges we face.  If we can prove that, then we’ll see a Morning in America again.

About Timothy Dalrymple

Timothy Dalrymple was raised in non-denominational evangelical congregations in California. The son and grandson of ministers, as a young boy he spent far too many hours each night staring at the ceiling and pondering the afterlife.
 
In all his work he seeks a better understanding of why people do, and do not, come to faith, and researches and teaches in religion and science, faith and reason, theology and philosophy, the origins of atheism, Christology, and the religious transformations of suffering

  • PAUL STOWELL

    WOW! I have never read this guy but this article is great. A bit short on solutions but the points he brought out may spawn a few.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Thanks, Paul. Can’t put too much into a single blog post, or it gets too long and nobody reads it! Hope you keep reading, though. Cheers,

      Tim

    • in_awe

      Paul, I agree with you. I really enjoyed this article. I’ll be coming back in the future.

  • http://www.theprecinctproject.wordpress.com Cold Warrior

    First we have to make sure we DO EVERYTHING to get every good, decent, conservative American to go to the polls in the 2012 primary and general elections. The BEST way to ensure that is to get every conservative to seek out their local Republican Party committee and sign up to be a volunteer and, ideally, to become a voting member of the Party — a precinct committeeman. Right now, in the Republican Party, for example, on average, in every locality, over half of these slots are vacant. Only precinct committeemen are eligible to vote for the Party leaders/officers. Only PCs can vote to give Party endorsements to candidates in the all-important, traditionally-very-low-turnout primary elections. Yes, we must pray. Yes, we must return to our basic American values. But we also must ACT. We must rediscover basic American civics and the fact that when our country is in a political crisis we need to carry out our civic duty and engage in party politics. The BEST way to do that, especially when over half of the local, precinct-level party slots are vacant, is to fill one of those slots and use it for the dual purpose of making the Republican Party stronger, and more conservative, and to help Get Out The Vote in the primary and general elections for the BEST Constitutional conservative candidates.

    For example, in AZ, where I live, only 65% of registered Republicans voted in the 2008 general election, only about 50% in the 2010 general election, only about 20% typically vote in the primary elections, and in Phoenix, about a week ago, only 15% turned out for the election of the mayor and 5 of the 8 city council seats. Are we just going to collectively shrug as we lose our country. Are we just going to watch? It seems so.

    The elections are what matter. As James Carville might say, “It’s the elections, stupid.”

    As I am not allowed, apparently, to include a URL for a web site, to find out how to become a precinct committeman, do some Googling using the search terms:

    precinct committeeman project cold warrior american majority concord project gotv

    Follow the links. Read about “how it works” in your state.

    Then find your local Republican Party committee meeting and go there. And tell them you want to become a voting member of the Party — a precinct committeeman.

    And, by the way, the incumbents won’t breathe a word about this to you. Ever receive a mailer from a Republican incumbent that over half of the precinct committeemen slots in their district are vacant and you ought to become one? No? You know why? Because they don’t want the status quo to change. If conservatives filled up all the vacancies, they might get thrown out in the next primary election in favor of some newcomer who was more conservative and not a “professional politician.” Can you say “Sen. Mike Lee of Utah” and “Senator for life Bob Bennett of Utah?”

    For Liberty,
    Cold Warrior

  • Thom Burke

    Mr. Dalrymple offers incredible insight and I seek out his essays wherever I can find them, but I was confused by his choice of pronouns in the above article: “we, our, us.” Rather that American, he is a British subject living in France, last I heard.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      I’m very pleased to be confused with Theodore Dalrymple, Thom, but I’m afraid we’re two separate persons. Besides, Theodore Dalrymple is a pen name. I don’t recall his real name, but it also pleases me that someone actually chose my last name even though he was not compelled to it. There’s also a William Dalrymple who does some very fine travel/geographical writing.
      -Tim

  • john primm

    I believe that America can and will come back to a more sane society…however…it will take some doing as the forces that have attacked the family and society have run amok for over 40 years. America is an idea more than anything else and when enough people awaken from slumber–which they have been since Jan 09–our country will survive and prosper. I know in my heart that the 08 election was exactly what this nation needed to bring all the ugliness to the surface and force people to see what has been happening since the 60′s…I do not say it will be easy or short, but it will result in a return to the Founding Principles.

  • Randy G.

    Thank you, Tim, for an excellent blog. Reading your piece and finding my throat tightening and tears coming, I realize that it is the REALISTIC OPTIMISM that you express that is what I loved and miss so much about President Reagan.

    I also thank you for the measured words about our attitudes toward one another. Remembering what we were and how much we have lost as a society can cast the past in an idyllic glow, like a Norman Rockwell painting. Seeing the way some of our citizens aggressively jettison the virtues that we know made this nation great is maddening, and I confess enrages me to the point that I could easily resort to decidedly unchristian means to counter it. But I know God is in control and that the wrath of man does not accomplish the will of God. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ can change hearts, and only changed hearts and minds will turn this nation. Political advances may set a tone conducive to recovery, but regeneration makes people new. Thanks again for everything.

  • Sophia

    Thank you for this piece! It’s brilliant…so clear and true!!!

    One of the points which stands out to me is this:

    “Yet I would not be so worried about our economic and political problems if I were confident that we had the moral, cultural and spiritual resources to respond to them.”

    And the question which comes to my mind here is this: Where is the Church in all of this mess? It seems to me that in more ways than not the Church has stood along side the culture in supporting all that deminishes our moral, cultural, and spiritual resources…and in practice has become every bit as fragmentmented as American society at large, leaving those who would seek out the resources for their moral, cultural, and spiritual strength at a loss.

  • Mike

    “I wonder: America is stumbling now — do they like what they see?”

    No, they don’t like it. But many will NEVER admit that it was their actions that caused it. They will continue to blame the productive class and agitate for more of the same “solutions” that caused our problems in the first place.

    But their rhetoric seems to be wearing thin to most people. We can overcome this.

  • Tom

    Tim this is a brilliant article. It crystalizes for me the reasons for the general feeling of sadness I have about the way the country is going and the dismay at our current governments progressive agenda. Thanks for the hopeful conclusion. I subscribed to receive you future post. Best wishes, Tom

  • Cathy

    It’s so good to hear someone stand up and identify the different views of ‘patriotism’ that are actually just based on hate…and fear. I do believe that the slogan, “Divide and Conquer” is winning in this country. I hope, along with you, that we can regain the strengths and virtues that once made this nation great. Thanks.

    • Patrick Carroll

      You need to work on your snark.

  • Chris

    Mr. Dalrymple,
    Unfortunately you mis-diagnose hyper partisanship as part of the problem. It’s not. It’s a symptom of the disease. There is a cancer in the body politic that is exemplified by your former academic colleagues. They do indeed seem to be pleased with the current state of the power of America. Arrayed against that force is the American of the stripe that you seem to sense are similar to the tea partners. But that the problem… they are a small portion of the citizenry. They are too few to turn the ship of state that MATHEMATICALLY must hit the iceberg.

    It IS too late to turn the ship. Not for want of those that are willing to try, but because the disease (to mix metaphors) is too advanced. The disease of progressivism controls govt at many levels, cultural foundations such as entertainment, educational foundations at all levels… they are encroaching into business, and eventually. They cannot be stopped or reasoned with. They will eventually destroy every vestige of the Republic.

    All that is left for those of us that care about this Great Nation is to determine what will rise from the ashes.

    I have served my nation and can recognize the no-win situation… we are there. The number of government dependent citizens now outweighs the taxpaying citizenry. The culture of America has been replaced by the culture of me. Not for all…. but it doesn’t need to be all… it just needs to be 51%.

    A republican will win the 2012 election… but the financial collapse of the Republic will not be stopped because it cannot be stopped. The time for that was decades ago before the danger was upon us. The wolf is now at the door… just as it was with Great Britain following WW2, we will choose the path of decay not because you and I desire it, but because those elected to continue the citizenry of dependence desire it.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Well, Chris, here’s hoping you’re wrong. I for one am not giving up.
      -Tim

  • Kerry

    “America is stumbling now — do they like what they see?” They are like Maggie Smith in the film Gosford Park, when the film director said revealing the film’s ending would be telling. Maggie, “We, you understand, none of us will ever see it!” They want stumbling and bumbling, but not for themselves. They have superior caring skills, and know what’s best for the untermenchen

  • RKV

    “the courting of the aged and the poor with promised entitlements we could not afford to deliver”

    should read…

    “the buying of the votes of the aged and the poor with other’s money extracted by coercion” aka theft and or extortion

    47% of Americans pay no income tax. Representation without taxation is theft. We aren’t going to get better until we improve our moral values.

  • Patrick Carroll

    So, imagine a plane had hit the Capitol, or the White House, would either be still partial ruins today?

    Of course not! our political class would have rebuilt immediately. To show the American people who’s the strong horse.

    For the civilians, well, after a decade, we’re still waiting for a new WTC, and all we have is a new mosque.

    It’s time to start electing Sarah Palin independents, and it’s time to start hunting the Democrat and Republican establishment with dogs and shotguns.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X