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What is America?

What is America?

Do you ever get the feeling that the experts concerned with keeping us informed don't really know the answer to that question?

As I travel around the country, I seem to be discovering lots of people who don't fit into the image of America offered by the major media in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles. The contrast is so great that I find myself increasingly convinced this nation is not what we've been told it is in the past 20 years. The people in Bangor, Maine, or Roswell, New Mexico, or Fletcher, Oklahoma, just don't think the way they're being portrayed.

The discrepancy is probably caused by ignorance, not outright deceit. Authors, TV writers, news people, educators--they for the most part seem unable to grasp the truth of what America is. Their perceptions are skewed; they deal in caricatures. It's quite likely that some, even when they do glimpse the difference, get caught up in a defense of their own preconceptions. To do otherwise would be to admit that they have been wrong. And That's contrary to human nature.

Let's look at one facet of life.

"The U.S. is the most religious country in the world. Some 95 percent to 98 percent of Americans say they believe in God"--the opinion of Seymour Martin Lipset, a professor of political science and sociology at Stanford University, as expressed in Time magazine last year. If he is correct, several findings of the Gallup organization in a recent poll commissioned by the Christian Broadcasting Network become more clear. Gallup learned that:

(1) Fifty-six percent of the American people say they are more reliant upon God than they were five years ago.

(2) One-third of the people say they base their political opinions on religious beliefs to a greater extent than they did five years ago.

In addition to these self assessments, Gallup's queries showed a majority (58 percent) believe Americans as a whole are increasing their efforts to put their religious faith into practice. Thirty-three percent believe that citizens as a whole are more and more forming their political opinions because of religious beliefs.

All these findings suggest a populace far more value oriented and traditional in its views than one would suspect from observing the day-to-day fare of the television, the film, the publishing and the educational industries.

I believe two factors are at work.

First, evangelical Christians are steadily moving from the pew to the marketplace. Prodded by the Jesus revivals of the '60s and and '70s, as well as by the ongoing charismatic renewal of the last 25 years, they have determined that the Bible and their faith apply to all of life, not merely to personal, devotional life.

Supplementing this move is a substantial residue of faith and moral value within Americans generally, even those not themselves overtly committed to God, to prayer, to churchgoing or the like. We might describe it as a "memory" of faith, almost a subconscious recollection of the days when faith, the Bible and moral character figured in the day-to-day life of the nation. This residue is capable of responding, at first almost imperceptibly, to leadership that invokes the name of God and Biblical values.

Contemporary portraits of American life have missed the significance of these factors. The information giants' misunderstanding of the trends was revealed in the presidential elections of 1980 and 1984. A candidate talked unabashedly about his dependence on God, his commitment to the traditional values and verities and his faith in the wisdom and the foresight of the Founding Fathers. And he was convincingly voted into office. The people said: "This is the kind of guy we want running the country." True, significant numbers of them may not at the moment have had the depth of moral commitment, the faith in God and the trust in traditional values that Ronald Reagan had, but they were comfortable with a man in the White House who did have.

They wanted leadership that hadn't been cowed into silence regarding faith in God, in country and in family, for instance. They wanted freedom individually, nationally and internationally. They wanted a government willing to back out of places it shouldn't be so it could be strong enough to meet the needs it should meet.

So they got their man. He understood who they were and what they wanted. But the information industry refused or failed to understand and continued to misrepresent what America is. Lacking understanding, this powerful, hard-working information group actually strove to thwart the programs the people wanted. Though the will of the people had been indicated--and even though this is a democracy--the will of the people was not followed.

One wonders if this dichotomy between the people and the "experts" who run things is permanent. I believe we must seek the answer to a basic question: Are the information leaders of our country actually elitists?--as some (I included) have asked. Have they lost touch with reality? Do they see themselves as somehow "knowing," while the majority of the people--even the people in Nebraska and North Carolina and Tennessee with whom they grew up--don't really "understand"? Are they correct in this perception? Is it possibly true that--by going to the same schools; by reading the same books and periodicals; by viewing the same theater; by passing through the same farm system on the way to the top; by going to the same parties; by avoiding the same God; by snickering at the same old-fashioned virtues--their beliefs permit them to override the popular will?

The answers to the above questions are: Yes, they are elitists; yes, they have lost touch with reality in spiritual matters; yes, they quietly believe they know more than the typical American; no, they are not superior in their understanding, but merely different--even wrong, in some cases.

The problem is that, since World War II, this group of experts has gained the center stage, through intelligence, hard work and perseverance. The good news is that the same qualities, if embraced by the traditionalists, can correct the embalance. There is evidence such correction is not far distant.

Those same evangelicals I mentioned earlier, plus those folks with the residue of faith, plus those who have never waffled in their stand for traditional values, are turning up in key places. They are intelligent, they are hard-working and they are persevering. They will one day have a voice in the television, the film, the publishing and the educational industries. Then perhaps we once again will see clearly what America is, rather than what it isn't.
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Title Annotation:depiction by media
Author:Slosser, Bob
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Article Type:column
Date:Oct 1, 1985
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