The Hardening of America

The Hardening of America June 20, 2018

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.

The Hardening

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.

Gudjon Bergmann
Interfaith Minister, Author, and Speaker
Founder of Harmony Interfaith Initiative

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Fartrell Cluggins

    I’m there with you and pretty much terrified for my country and family’s future. I feel I’ve already seen the peak of America, and possibly the rest of the world in my lifetime, and its all a dystopian nightmare from here on out.

    The more I step back and think about what brought us to this point, the more I realize it started accelerating like a Formula 1 car once Fox News was unleashed upon the airwaves. They started radicalizing the rightwing in this country, spawning more intense and radical copycats that have only gotten worse with time. Facts, reason, and values don’t matter to them, only winning at all costs and making sure the “other side” is demonized and accused of everything they can throw at them.

    The first step in reclaiming our shining beacon of hope is to hold these media outlets to higher standards, if not outright getting rid of them, as they serve no purpose other than spewing propaganda and radicalizing no matter the cost to society.

  • Maine_Skeptic

    “Is this a phase or the new norm?”

    While things will probably grow much worse before the right wing awakens from its fever dream, the mentality of those now in power is unsustainable for the long term. The parasites are consuming their host too fast.

  • dala

    It is not a phase, it is a step toward fascism that needs to be opposed.

  • Somewhere Free

    It was called the Fairness Doctrine. The idea was that since the Public owned the EM bandwidth, any company using those bandwidths to transmit entertainment for profit OWED the public a balanced look at all political parties. In reality this worked out to equal time for Right and Left on ALL networks.

    Reagan’s administration stabbed us in the back and buried the Fairness Doctrine in a shallow grave.

  • Ivan T. Errible

    Why does Iceland still have a tax-supported church? Isn’t that a violation of separation of church and state?

  • scottpresnall

    Could it be that the concept isn’t foundational in that country? After all, Iceland isn’t subject to any of our laws.

  • Ivan T. Errible

    It must be foundational; it’s in their constitution.

  • Pennybird

    But the Fairness Doctrine only applied to broadcast and not to cable, which is where all the vile spew resides, so its absence might not have made a difference.

    But I do agree with Fartrell that Fox should take a large responsibility. I only wish there was a way to convince viewers they are being had. No one wants to be made a fool of, and that’s exactly what Fox is doing to its fan base.

    I also think the Evangelical Church of Republicanism is responsible for twisting their Jesus into one of their own: an insecure white guy who can’t bear it when anyone else gets a piece of the pie.

  • mike malzahn

    your post doesn’t make any sense. how are we not a nation of aspirational values?