May 11, 2010
Stewart Pence, guest columnist: Not what founders imagined
By Stewart Pence Special to The Globe
JOPLIN, Mo. — Every Monday morning I repeat the Pledge of Allegiance to our country, and continue my civic duty to receive an education and become the best that I can be.
Yet, as I recite my duty to our country, it forces me to ask a deeper question: What is America? How do I live up to these ideals? More importantly, what can I do to make this country better? Certainly the answer lies in the very roots of our country, in the writings of our Founding Fathers.
Thus, if I am to believe in our country, and support it in its affairs, I too must agree with its principles; among which are the ideals of equality, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. To be an American, one must stand in ideological alignment with the very things our Founding Fathers established this country to believe in. If one cannot stand on this ground, and pursue an excellence in them or for his nation with these great principles in mind, one cannot be an American at heart.
Obviously the pursuit of these ideals is where the situation becomes thornier. Most Americans do seek to advance these principles, yet simply differ on the means to achieving them. Possibly the most erroneous turn taken isn’t in the people, but with the people representing us. It’s without surprise that America is becoming incredibly out of touch with the world when our own congressmen and women are completely out of touch with their own electorate. The deviation from representative democracy to aristocracy is the most fundamentally altering shift in our political system. If our Congress members have millions of dollars per individual, there is no way that they can understand the plight of working paycheck to paycheck, or the struggle of budgeting. (And we wonder why we have trillions in a deficit.) Of the rich, by the rich and for the rich: This is not the America our fathers imagined.
Even more troubling is the idea of hypocrisy. In fact, most countries in the world will find the word American to be a synonym with hypocrisy. A country that is supposed to thrive upon the American Dream — freedom and peace — only takes part in double standards — you can’t have nukes, but I can; equality for all, except Muslims; everyone here can be who he wants to be, unless you’re gay. There is no way a country can be aligned to its fundamental principles when people take almost every opportunity to violate the standards.
Perhaps more telling of our world view is how Americans behave. We have the highest incomes on the planet, yet oddly we also have the highest deficit. Our debt levels are astounding. We have no problem spending $1,000 on the newest computer product, $25,000 on the newest car and $500,000 on the newest house. All the while, we fill our granite kitchens with $300 of groceries, about a third of which we will not eat. Luckily for our $2,000 dog, he can have leftover steak for dinner. All of this in blatant disregard to the millions that live on less than a dollar a day throughout the world. Our blatant overconsumption is a troubling turn from the values that made America strong. We as a society have been caught up in the mentality of “spend, buy, now!”
Everyone feels entitled to the benefits, and no one wants to do any work. We have become a lazy nation of whiners where people feel as if they can shove the work off onto someone else while they sit at home eating McDonald’s, becoming obese, playing Xbox, receiving welfare for them and their nine children, only to end up in our hospitals with their bills being paid for by hard-working Americans.
Certainly there must be something more to being American, or at the very least, something we should do to behave more like an American should. It begins with the pursuit of justice. Through the power of democracy (if it exists in our country anymore), through the power of altruism and through the power of morality, Americans may once again claim themselves to be so. If we choose to allow equality, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to live, then it will. But if we continue to blatantly ignore the fundamentals that allow it to do so, then there is no feasible way our country can ever live up to its creed.
If our society is to live on, we have to make fundamental changes. We have to recognize that the American dream is made up of hard work. We have to realize that life itself is hard, and that we’re lucky that we don’t have to bear the brunt of it. We have to stop being hypocritical, lazy and whiny. We have to take a step forward into the world stage, and be willing to empathize and be willing to deal. Above all else, we have to learn to take short-term sacrifices for long-term sustainability.
Thus, when I pledge allegiance to our flag, I also make a pledge to live up to the principles upon which it stands. If our country can’t find a way to do this, and fast, I fear for how long they may last.
Stewart Pence is a junior at Joplin High School.
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