Thanks to being retired, I was blessed (although there could be a valid case for “cursed”) to have been able to watch much of the impeachment proceedings both in the House and the Senate. As a typical and very average citizen, perception becomes my reality and my perception of the quality of our national representation in Washington has taken another hit.
My earliest memories of anybody in national politics were of Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon. My perceptions of those politicians were based partially upon the propaganda in school history classes, but mostly by listening to the significant adults in my life. Those adults rarely complained about those in office and most comments were made, often tongue in cheek, only during elections. I was convinced, clear up to the election of George W. Bush, that we always elected our best and brightest. Bush's phony, folksy public persona was the first crack in that perception.
However, I think the loss of my youthful idealism can really be traced back to IPFW's bringing Cornel West to Fort Wayne in 2001, where he talked about our collective inability to define reality. He said evil exists in our world and to fight it we must have the courage to think and to think critically, but few have that courage, instead preferring what he called “deliberate ignorance.”
This concept was confirmed in my mind when I read the book “Freak-onomics” by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, where they quote economist John Kenneth Galbraith, who coined and developed a concept in his 1958 book, “The Affluent Society,” called conventional wisdom. Galbraith suggests that we as a society associate truth with convenience – with what mostly accords with self-interest and personal well-being. So, according to Galbraith, our conventional wisdom, which we use to guide us through life, must be simple, convenient, comfortable and comforting – though not necessarily true.
It would seem the Psalmist had it right thousands of years ago when he wrote: “There is no one who does good, not even one” (Psalm 14:3). I would suggest that it is our collective conventional wisdom, fueled by our lack of courage in seeking truth through hard critical thinking, that leads us to elect people who behave in such cowardly and hypocritical ways as have been demonstrated these past few weeks. Shame on us!
Does anybody really believe that if everything we have seen and heard since last July were exactly the same – except with a Democratic president, A Republican House and a Democratic Senate – that any of this behavior/verbiage would be any different? Our government reflects what we have become as a population – weak-minded, intellectually lazy and self-centered, more concerned with the acquisition of wealth and personal comfort than with the development of moral fiber.
This leads to a national arrogance and a sense of entitlement that I suspect will be the death of us all. I wish that weren't me – but in “real” reality (as opposed to deliberate ignorance and conventional wisdom), I know it is.
The solution is simple (not easy, but simple) and was written down by the prophet Ezra more than 2,000 years ago in 2 Chronicles 7:14: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (the key word here is “humble”).
As I study the past, the Scriptures, as well as the current issues of our day (thanks be to retirement!), I am convinced that this concept Ezra stated is a legitimate model for this nation and, if it happens, we as a population will take seriously our personal responsibility not only for our own lives, but for the votes we cast, and those votes will not go for self-serving demagogues named Trump, McConnell, Banks, Braun, Young, Schumer, Pelosi, Warren, Sanders, Schiff and their ilk, but instead might raise a batch of politicians who truly look to serve the people's interest, and who will not waste the great untapped potential of American exceptionalism that was birthed such a relatively short time ago.
Jim Collins, in his book “Good to Great,” said it well: “Few people attain great lives, in large part because it is just so easy to settle for a good life.” America has, particularly for its white, male citizenry, provided an easy path to the “good life,” and we are seeing the consequences of settling for that by the people we elect to office.
For a “great life” and thus the opportunity for great leadership, Collins says there are three broad stages needed to convert us from “Good to Great”: disciplined people, disciplined thought and disciplined action. God created in each of us the potential for these three things – taking Ezra's advice would make them possible.
Ron Flickinger is a retired Fort Wayne educator.