I was born in Iceland, moved to Texas in 2010, and became a US Citizen in 2013. When I was growing up, America always portrayed itself as an aspirational country. It was the land of the free and home of the brave, wanting to be a beacon of hope for the rest of the world.
America stood for the freedom of expression, equality under the law, the land of dreams, and, even though it may sometimes have fallen short, America always portrayed itself as having a strong moral compass. In response to oppression, torture, and fascism, America responded by saying: “We don’t do those kinds of things. That’s not who we are.”
The liberal world order—which includes strong alliances and has led to stable democracies—has always been lead by America. No other country has given more global aid. When the dirt has hit the fan, the rest of the world has looked to us.
As a result, there have always been more people who have wanted to move here than have wanted to leave. This is true even now, although we may see a change in the trend at some point if things keep going in the current direction.
I am not daft. I know that there have been disparities between the aspirations and the reality, but until recently, the American character was resolutely aspirational.
I don’t know when the hardening began. Maybe it was around the Vietnam War. Maybe it was during one of the recessions. Maybe it came as a result of fighting two open-ended wars for nearly twenty years. Maybe it was the constant infighting and continuous deadlock in our chambers of government. I don’t know. All I know is that it is happening now and that unless we make a concerted effort to reclaim the aspirational nature that this country was founded on, America may very well become the world bully that Ray Bradbury described in Fahrenheit 451, the must-read book of our times.
After I moved here in 2010, I noticed the hardening in media and politics, but since 2016, the constant onslaught of propaganda against aspirational American values has been nonstop. Whether the topic is freedom of speech, rule of law, the liberal world order, commitments to human rights, environmental protection, or global aid, Americans, through the electoral process, have decided that the foundational aspirations are no longer central to who we are as a nation.
If America Loses, So Does the World
The free and open practice of all forms of spirituality and religion is contingent on a free and open society; dependent on an aspirational national character that values equality, liberty, the rule of law, freedom of expression, and the pursuit of happiness. If bullying, domination, pettiness, vengefulness, and reverence for dictators and strongmen are some of the values that are to claim their place instead and form the new American ethos; if playing political chicken with the lives of children becomes the new norm and lying the default setting, then it is not only America who has lost, so has the world.
Is This a Phase?
Is this a phase or the new norm? That is the question I ask myself every night before I go to sleep. I hope that it’s a phase. I hope that Americans reclaim their aspirational values through the electoral process in the coming years. I know a lot of good people both here in Texas and around the country. The aspirational character of America is in many people’s DNA. Will it be strong enough to resurface and once again become central to who we are as a nation or will the hardening solidify? Will we join the nations of strongmen in a new alliance of world dominance or will we stand for freedom and the democratic process? Those are the questions we must now wrestle with and collectively answer. If we fail, the world will be the worse for it.
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