America's hidden strength: despite some distressing signs of the times, America's many layers of hidden strength offer hope that our nation will remain the land of the free and the home of the brave.
The view of America portrayed on the nightly news--the scandals, the crime. the faltering economy, the terrorism, the siege mentality in Washington--is nothing like the perspective of middle-class America, the vast swath of small cities, towns, villages and rural real estate that make up most of America outside the urban corridors of power and prestige on the east and west coasts and in a few interrior population centers. Sometimes derivisely call "flyover country" by those who have never experienced its charms, Middle America is less a geographic area than a stratum of society, a way of life that has changes less than the molders of public opinion would have us believe, and which still harbors great reservoirs of strength that sustain the republic in good times and bad.
Middle America Up Close
Such a place is David City, Nebraska where my wife and I lived in the early years of our marriage, and still have many contacts. David City, despite its name, is a very small town in the prairies of eastern Nebraska. Like thousands of other small towns sprinkled across the Midwest, David City has a main square with a single stoplight and a cluster of handsome, well-kept, early 20th-century buildings. The fronts are always immaculate, and the people are without exception polite, friendly and helpful. The residential parts of town are quiet, the well-shaded streets lined with unpretentious, mostly white houses. The surrounding countryside is filled with prosperous farms mad villages smaller even than David City, where the loudest sound one is apt to hear on a summer afternoon is the buzz of a cicada.
David City is not altogether isolated from the cares of the world, however. Back in the spring of 1993, a local controversy erupted when the school board, fearful of repercussions from a wrathful ACLU of Department of Education, disallowed prayer at the public high school commencement. Like may small towns during that period of controversy over prayer at graduations, football games and other public-school events, David City resented the intrusion. In defiance of the school board decision, the entire senior class stood for a prayer at the graduation ceremony, an event which attracted wide press coverage across the state at the time. Events like this took place all over smalltown America a decade ago, as the decent, moral majority signaled their displeasure at the forced secularization of their commons.
Tyrone, Pennsylvania, where I grew up, is another typical American small town. Tyrone is hidden away in the ridges and forests of the Allegheny Mountains. Unlike David City, Tyrone is more of an industrial than a farming community; it grew up with the iron industry and with the railroad, and came of age with the construction of a large paper plant in the 1880s. Tyrone's bustling downtown boasts a growing array of thriving businesses, including a generations old candy manufacturer whose products attract the sweettoothed from all over the state. Tyrone, like David City, is a quiet town. Deer, turkeys and even black bears from the surrounding forests often wander into the residential areas, while the river that runs through the town teems with trout.
The problems of the world at large came home to Tyrone in devastating fashion in late 2001, when Westvaco, the owner of Tyrone's paper mill that employed more than 270 people, decided to close the plant. The severe economic downturn and competition from cheap imported paper had taken their toll on the company. Hundreds of families in Tyrone saw their livelihood disappear as the 120 year-old paper plant became another victim of corporate downsizing, courtesy in no small measure to the suicidal trade policies of America's political leadership.
The citizens of Tyrone, however, were unfazed by the specter of globalization and foreign competition. A group of about a dozen local businessmen, including seven who had worked at the Westvaco plant, pooled their resources and formed a new company, aptly named American Eagle Paper Mills. In the summer of 2003 American Eagle purchased the old Westvaco paper mill, rehired many of the laid-off workers and resumed operations. Thanks to the courage of local entrepreneurs, Tyrone, Pennsylvania, is an inspiring example of small-town America fighting against the blowback of deliberately engineered globalization.
David City, Nebraska, and Tyrone, Pennsylvania, are far from unique. All across America, citizens at the local level are fighting on many fronts to preserve our civilization. For the most part, these fights are undertaken at the local or state level, and do not attract national media attention. But they are emblematic of one of America's greatest strengths, the vitality of her states and communities.
The American republic was built from the bottom up, so to speak. Before the Constitution was ever framed, America consisted of 13 sovereign, vigorously independent states composed in turn of numerous cities and towns all busily engaged in the work of governing themselves. The Constitution was framed not because these separate polities had any difficulty running their own affairs, but because they needed a more energetic political union to help resolve disputes amongst the separate states and to represent the states as a whole in dealing with other nations. Only in this way would they avoid becoming, in Alexander Hamilton's words, "an infinity of little, jealous, clashing, tumultuous commonwealths, the wretched nurseries of unceasing discord and the miserable objects of universal pity or contempt."
The resulting form of government, a federal or compound republic, conferred many layers of institutional strength that previous republics, from ancient Rome to the medieval Italian city-states, did not possess. The most important such strength is state sovereignty. While all states are constitutionally required to have a republican form of government, they enjoy considerable latitude to experiment on the best way to structure their governments and in the types of laws passed. Today, laws regarding liquor consumption, firearms ownership, car licensing, and many other activities vary widely across state lines. The very structure of government differs from one state to the next. Some states, for example, allow the popular election of judges, while others do not. Many, though by no means all, states permit the governor the power of the "line-item veto" over items in appropriations bills. States have different ways of determining internal boundaries. Pennsylvania has "boroughs" and "townships" while New York has "towns." Louisiana has parishes instead of counties. One state, Nebraska, even has a unicameral rather than a bicameral legislature.
All of these differences are the result of federalism. In complete contrast with other countries, such as France with its "departments" and Russia with its "oblasts," Americans enjoy a great diversity of recipes for local government, and are free to "vote with our feet" if we consider laws or rates of taxation in one state objectionable. Recent years have seen a significant exodus from the northeast and the west coast as stratospheric taxes and ever-more burdensome layers of regulation have driven many to where the hand of government is fighter. That this diversity among states is largely intact--despite generations of pressure by an increasingly overweening federal government to conform to uniform standards--is evidence of the resilience of the federal system that our founders designed.
Many institutional checks and balances allow the separated powers within the different branches of the federal government to offset one another, protecting American citizens and states against dangerous concentrations of power at the federal level. While the federal government has amassed tremendous powers beyond what the founders intended, most of the checks and balances originally provided for by the Constitution remain. The legislative powers of Congress are offset by the presidential veto, while the judicial authority of the Supreme Court is checked by the power of Congress to limit the court's appellate jurisdiction. The House of Representatives--the body most directly accountable to the people--is given control over the purse strings. Overall, the powers not expressly delegated to the federal government are reserved to the several states or to the people, as provided for by the Tenth Amendment. The Constitution itself, described by Jefferson as the "chains" to "bind down from mischief" ambitious. power-seeking officeholders, is still largely intact, despite generations of attempted sabotage. Those constitutional chains, in order to have effect, need only to be applied more consistently to restore the federal government to its proper size and powers.
Besides a resilient Constitution, Americans have been blessed with a luminous legal tradition, growing mostly out of the English common law, in which God-given individual rights are regarded as paramount. Common-law institutions like habeas corpus and the right to a trial by jury were designed to protect individuals against the depredations of the state. God-given or "inalienable" rights, first mentioned in the Declaration of Independence, are explicitly protected both by the federal Bill of Rights and in every state constitution. As a result, American citizens, despite never-ending efforts to curtail their rights, continue to enjoy a range of personal liberties greater than anywhere else. Other countries, to be sure, enjoy varying degrees of religious freedom, property rights, and the like. But nowhere else on Earth do people enjoy the range of freedoms--of individual worship, of career choice, of thinking and saying what we please, of petitioning and even criticizing political leaders. of keeping and bearing firearms for personal protection. and many others that Americans ate blessed with. America, with all of its flaws, is still by far the freest place on earth.
Our political freedoms did not originate in a vacuum. They arose in a religious and cultural context, a millennia-old heritage of civilization that originated in the sands of the Sinai and the city-states of Greece. Enlarged by Rome, refined and ennobled by Christianity, what has come to be known as "Western civilization" has reached its apogee in the American republic. Its fruits not only include the miraculous flowering of technology that has allowed us to place satellites in orbit, personal computers in nearly every home, and the trappings of luxury, unimagined by the wealthiest potentates of only a few generations past, in every household. They also include the less tangible, but nonetheless consequential, cultural and moral strengths that are almost uniquely a product of the Western tradition.
One of these is a flourishing middle class. The middle class, condescendingly identified by its enemies as the "bourgeoisie," has always been under attack from the Left, who rightly recognize the American middle class as their most formidable opponent. The middle class is conservative by instinct, prefers community, religious, and familial allegiances to the state, and generates a perpetual talent pool of new entrepreneurs, inventors, producers and leaders ready and able to compete with the established titans of industry, commerce, and government. The existence of a dynamic middle class militates against a permanent aristocracy in the United States, a painful fact for would-be American blue bloods. And in spite of constant attacks by political, cultural and moral subversives, the American middle class--perhaps our free society's greatest bastion of strength--is still vigorous.
One of our core middle-class values is our love of free enterprise. To be sure, commerce in this day of intrusive federal regulation is nowhere near as uninhibited as it once was. Yet despite the intrusions of OSHA, the EPA, and countless other nanny-state agencies, the United States of America still manages to be the economic and innovative engine of the entire Earth. The farms of the American Midwest still feed much of the planet. American engineers and programmers, in spite of pandemic outsourcing, still design most of the world's hardware and software. New automobiles, airplanes, tractors and countless other machines continue to pour off American assembly lines. Much of the rest of the world, for its part, still looks to the United States as a model for establishing their own business practices.
American Moral Strength
But the most important, indeed the foundational, element of American culture is the comparatively high standard of morality observed by American citizens. This is a legacy of the deeply religious settlers who first settled what became the American colonies. Motivated both by a desire to escape religious persecution in the mother country and to establish a higher, covenant-driven social order, the Pilgrims, Puritans, and other religious refugees of the 17th century set a standard of piety still recognized in our day. Morality reinforced by religion is crucial to liberty; as Lord Acton pointed out, "liberty is the prevention of control by others. This requires self-control, and therefore, religious and spiritual influences."
Americans, for all our failings, ate among the most moral people on earth. We attend church far more consistently than our counterparts in Europe, for example. Our crime rate, though not the world's lowest, is in significant decline. While the persistence of drugs, pornography, and other vices cannot be understated, they are nevertheless far less prevalent here than in much of the rest of the world. And Americans are an orderly, civilized people. We are able to vote and express political dissent without the explosive violence that always accompanies elections in places like India. In comparison with any other country in the world, our traffic is relatively orderly and our drivers courteous. In surveying the test of the world, only in countries with very high levels of government surveillance and control, such as Scandinavia, Singapore and Japan, do we find anywhere near the level of peace and orderliness of the modern United States.
The enemies of America recognized long ago that only a sustained assault on America's cultural and moral foundations could possibly bring about the conditions for a political revolution on the scale of the Communist putsches that enslaved Russia and the former Eastern Bloc countries. The strategy of Marxist political theorist and revolutionary Antonio Gramsci--of implementing a "long march", of cultural and religious subversion by identifying and targeting the loci of cultural strength--has had mixed results in modern America.
But for every Gramscian salient onto the cultural battleground, there has been a vigorous counterattack by moral Americans. America's sometimes beleaguered but still robust moral middle-class majority has proven flexible in adapting to and resisting attacks on its vitality. The most striking example of this has been in the critical area of education. During the '60s through the '90s, Americans fought a losing battle against the Gramscian elites who were systematically using the courts to expel prayer and religious expression from public schools and, eventually, even school athletic events. Perhaps not coincidentally, that period also saw public schools decline into crime--and drug-infested clinics for politically correct brainwashing. But decent Americans, rather than capitulate, began to innovate. Home schools proliferated, bringing about one of the great "counter-cultures" of our age. As a result of the vibrant home and private school culture, millions of Americans are growing up free of the suffocating indoctrination and educational leveling that the preceding generation endured.
In other areas as well, America's moral resiliency is slowly but surely driving improvement in popular tastes and modes of entertainment. In this author's memory, America for many years in the seventies and eighties seldom saw the production of a single decent movie, so militant were the culture mavens on enforcing the sex-soaked, irredeemably violent Hollywood world view. But more recently, a family night at the movie theater has once again become an option, thanks to the delightful animated family fare of Pixar and a steady parade of clean action and comedy flicks during the summer and holiday seasons. Even drama has taken a turn for the better, as 2003 offerings like Return of the King, Master and Commander, and Seabiscuit attest.
Image vs. Reality
Of course, much of our popular entertainment is still horrendous, and the world portrayed by the news media a dismal, crime-ridden swamp of iniquity. But it's important to bear in mind that the pixelated universe swimming on our television screens is a distortion of the world as it truly is. Dissolute Hollywood movie stars and producers desperately want us to believe that everybody leads lives of perpetual titillation and indulgence, where illicit affairs, drugs, crime, and other vices are glamorous and rehabilitative, and where misdeeds have no consequences as long as nobody gets hurt. Seldom represented onscreen is the havoc that moral transgression wreaks on families and neighborhoods; and even more seldom do we see, except as parodied pathologies, healthy, middle-class families and communities leading decent, God-fearing lives.
Yet this is still the reality for a majority of Americans, in spite of what the media try to persuade us to believe. The evidence is on display, for anyone who cares to visit Middle America, from Tyrone, Pennsylvania, to David City, Nebraska, and in countless thousands of other communities like them across the length and breadth of our country.
Without any shadow of a doubt, America and her freedoms are imperiled; but just as surely, beyond the vice, trouble and hopelessness that the media take pains to amplify and exaggerate, there exist today, as there have always existed, layer upon layer of strength, institutional, legal, and cultural, that continue to insulate America from the best-laid plans of her enemies within and provide a foundation upon which our republic will one day be renewed.
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|Publication:||The New American|
|Article Type:||Cover Story|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2004|
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