The Near Miracle Called America

by DR. ROBIN MCFEE December 6, 2016

"The Near Miracle Called America has done more good for the world than any other country, and we are at risk of losing it."   ~  Richard Dreyfuss

For those of us who love our country - it is refreshing to hear someone of stature describe the US as a near miracle of great global good; such sentiments are not often spoken in the modern era of globalism and anti-American rhetoric.  Thankfully there seems to be an emergence, a renewal perhaps, of interest in our nation's birth, as evidenced by the best seller lists of non-fiction. Thank God......

Because.... this tempestuous election year I found myself withdrawing into a sort of intellectual womb - trying to satisfy a need for political inspiration or at least connecting with folks who forged the greatest nation in the modern world - our nation. Perhaps you, too, found the need to go back in time to when it all started. And then trying to make sense of how we could get so far from the Framers' intentions for the republic. So like Ben and Jerry's for the brain, I've been binging on the writings of our founding fathers.  Books like The Quartet, The Fever of 1721, Washington's Secret Six, The Jefferson Bible, Hamilton, Faiths of our Fathers, The Federalist Papers, and similar.

Speaking of which....have you ever read the Silence Dogood letters? If not, may I suggest going online and reading those insightful missives that appeared in James Franklin's New England Courant? Beyond being good literature, they take political satire and moral commentary to a level not readily viewed in early 18th Century America. That a largely self taught adolescent wrote them, all the while quoting some of the great philosophers (such as Cato) in their native language ought to impress, even if that young man happened to be Benjamin Franklin. Consider our nation was forged by adolescents of intellect and courage - Benjamin Tallmadge, Nathan Hale, Alexander Hamilton, and so many others - all of whom not only would be familiar with, they would be conversant about Cato, Voltaire, Cicero, Plato, Virgil, Epictetus, and similar. On the other hand, if I asked the average adolescent who Cato was, if I didn't get a blank stare, the answer would likely be the Green Hornet's side kick. And as for quoting, let alone reading Latin or Greek - unless the child is a prodigy or fortunate to attend a private school or exceptional public school - good luck with that. Yet nearly 300 years ago one might argue the average person was far more literate, even if not as well educated, as our average citizen.

More is the pity, because the Framers designed our nation around the notion of the citizen statesmen, and that the foundation of our country would be an engaged citizenry.  I think if they listened to the average citizen today, most of the founding fathers and mothers might want to rise from the grave just so they could die all over again.

Where is the next citizen statesmen? Or is that a thing of the past? Consider not long ago I attended a fund raiser for a political candidate who thanked the audience, and then said he hoped he could have the job forever. While thunderous applause followed his comments, a chill ran through my soul. Whether dog catcher, Congressman, city counselor or POTUS, the Framers did not intend for political dynasties. Their warnings about parties, mob rule, and long term times in office were prophetic, and go largely unheeded.

Perhaps it is our ignorance of history, or perhaps our lack of appreciation for the need to learn about our founding, and what it means to live in a society that have led us to the place we are in.

We often are tempted to blame social media as distractions for civil discourse. To be sure, social media sites purvey a bad game of operator on a minute by minute basis. The hateful rhetoric, often without basis of fact has supplanted cogent discussion, or respectful argument. People of all ages opine idiotically on face book as if it was some sort of athenaeum for the intellectually bereft. We have allowed smart phones to become electronic babysitters instead of engaging our young people. Interestingly when I take some of the kids I mentor to places where interacting with people, and participation are the key elements of the activity, they thrive, and enjoy it!

It is easy to blame our education system for the lack of knowledge about, pride in, and sacrifice for our country.  But schools are mere reflections of the greater society. Parenting is gone haywire, children are giving birth to children, the family is increasingly fragmented, poor choice behaviors among certain populations beget bad outcomes, and all the while teachers are supposed to become social engineers, educators, police, nurses, and even food providers. We have allowed education to devolve into something that in many cases does not fully prepare our students to become employable, marketable, good citizens, or independent because of societal problems and mission creep.

I think about the schools in various developing nations that I've visited. The students in these countries are hungry to learn, and would think they died and went to Heaven if they attended even some of our lesser schools.  What we take for granted, and squander, others would utilize to full advantage. And I would wager that students in other nations know more about their country, and ours, than most of our students know about the USA.

Have we made education merely a commodity, instead of an ongoing enterprise of lifelong learning?  Do we educate or indoctrinate? Are we really preparing our kids to become good citizens?  Maybe it is time to think out of the box and shift away from the one size fits all that has become the norm in education.

Which brings me to the key part of the story; not long ago I had the pleasure of speaking with Oscar Winning actor Richard Dreyfuss after his powerful portrayal of Albert Einstein in the play "Relativity." During the talk back I asked him to discuss the play in the context of education, especially in terms of what he is trying to achieve nationally with the project he is championing called The Dreyfuss Civics Initiative.  He started his response by talking about "the near miracle called America," conveying to us how an experiment in government unlike anything seen in modern history has had such a positive and beneficial effect on the world. He then cautioned, "and we are risk of losing the near miracle."

Later I had a chance to talk with him one on one. With a degree in political science, it was fun for me to speak with someone who so clearly understood, and deeply cared about his country. Dreyfuss conveyed such a love of country in the brief time we spoke that I can still feel his passion for, and what it means to be part of "the near miracle" as he called it. He articulated with the insight and the expertise of a college professor the creation of our civic structure - how no country in the modern era so publicly told the world who we are as a people, and what we stand for through the Bill of Rights - for all to view when we got it right, and the consequences when we got it wrong. Based on Hobbs, and Locke, Voltaire and others, our founders developed a set of governances that was unlike anything ever created, and gave us a level of freedom no other nations' citizens could enjoy. He went on to discuss the wisdom of the Framers, and the power of an educated citizenry - which is what we need.

A good segue into the Dreyfuss Civics Initiative (http://www.thedreyfussinitiative.org). The goal of his enterprise is to implement teaching American history, government, and civic values. According to the DCI mission statement - "in order for our children to be effective citizens, they must understand the development of America so they know how our political structure is unique and exceptional. Additionally, future generations must be taught how to understand all sides of an issue, thoughtfully develop an opinion, and discuss that opinion with civility and reason. We must not shy away from but embrace teaching the controversial issues and events throughout our history that have shaped the current standing of America."

Dreyfuss and his team are not wrong; we often fail to provide individuals with the skills they need to successfully fulfill their role of citizenship as envisioned by our founding fathers and mothers. We have in fact experienced political parties that persistently avoid compromise.  We have been plagued with violent protests. As the Dreyfuss Initiative site states "new generations are falling behind its peers in education rankings. Extremism has plagued our government. The lack of civility in debate seen in our political bodies is destructive."

Speak about lack of civility....This goes beyond our students or parents, all the way up to the highest corridors of power. 

One of the organizations with the greatest potential to bring civil discourse back into the political arena is called "No Labels" and is spearheaded by former Governor Jon Huntsman and former Senator Joe Lieberman. It is about building consensus across the party lines that lately seems more like Check Point Charlie than a mere aisle separating the Democrats from the Republicans. While a number of politicians from both parties have joined, the total membership is woefully small compared to the 535 members on The Hill. But "No Labels" seems here to stay, is making strides towards greater grass roots participation, and is a necessary, dare I suggest vital effort for the future of our nation. As an aside, one would have to wonder why any congressman or senator would not belong to it, if patriotism trumps partisanship. Unfortunately, partisanship seems to be de rigueur.  

"No Labels" posts political members on their web site. If your representative is not a member, maybe you might want to ask him or her why not?! One would have to wonder what is wrong with joining an organization that is trying to put America and Americans first, instead of party, and attempting to put forth legislation that benefits more than just the blue or red team. In their own words "No labels is the voice for the new center....we are a movement of problem solvers who believe being principled and pragmatic are not mutually exclusive ideas; who may tilt right or left but won't be held hostage to ideology or party dictates."  For more information on No Labels go to https://www.nolabels.org.

Discussion

"The near miracle called America." Wow, that is powerful stuff. It is the belief most of us who write for FSM share with you the reader. It is about patriotism, and civics, and developing citizens with a love of country, of neighbor, and who practice the notion of a social compact.

I've often written about that social compact in terms of the generation that lived through the Depression, and then managed to win a world war.

Sit by the fire listening to a World War II veteran or talk over a cup of tea to someone who served in the military, deployed in some far off land as a uniformed representative of the United States and you quickly get a sense, better said, you share in the emotion of an individual with a deep, abiding love of country. It is powerful, and getting all too rare. I have no idea if Dreyfuss served in uniform, but he certainly conveys a love of country, patriotism that is all too infrequently conveyed, and refreshing to hear.  Maybe we need to bring together children, adolescents, and veterans, along with others who love this country and feel a deep commitment to imbuing the next generation with a similar passion.

Some have suggested there is a generation gap in patriotism. But before we race to blame the youth of America, we might want to reexamine what we have done to as well as for them.

I would argue having mentored many over the years, that our young people want to know more about their nation, and be inspired by something greater than themselves.  We have the opportunity to bring this about. Whether by supporting programs like the Dreyfuss Civics Initiative or others of similar intent, or engaging young people we know and sharing our own knowledge about and love of country, providing well written books and educational experiences - we can guide the next generation towards protecting, and promoting "The Near Miracle Called America." 

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Dr. Robin McFee, MPH, FACPM, FAACT, is a physician, and clinical toxicologist. As medical director of Threat Science - and nationally recognized expert in WMD preparedness, she consults with government agencies, corporations and the media. Dr. McFee is the former director of the Center for Bioterrorism Preparedness (CB PREP) and bioweapons - WMD adviser to the Domestic Security Task Force, the former chair of the Global Terrorism Council of ASIS International, and a member of the US Counterterrorism Advisory Team. She has coauthored two books: Toxico-Terrorism by McGraw Hill and The Handbook of Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Agents, published by Informa/CRC Press    

 

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