“America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”
– Abraham Lincoln
This quote by our nation’s most influential historical executor gave me more than a moment’s pause. I couldn’t help but compose some reactionary thoughts.
This quote by President Abraham Lincoln implicates a strength and longevity of American culture and economy. It suggests that the freedoms and luxuries that we enjoy as a nation are firmly rooted by longstanding tradition and access to ample resources. And it’s true; citizens of the United States are comparably well-off in contrast to the rest of the world. We’ve known periods of strife and struggle, such as the Great Depression of the early 1900s, in which gainful employment and sustenance became dreadfully scarce. During the Civil War, there occurred more deaths on a single day than any other in American history. Ultimately, though, we overcame every difficulty, we recovered our losses, and we prospered in the face of every tragedy. Lincoln’s assertion of strength is evidenced by historical trends and the ever-increasing prosperity of the United States. His subsequent warning, however, is clear, and remains poignant and relevant today. Even the strongest body cannot stand once corrupted from within. By losing sight of the fundamental ideals that created our strength and largesse, we are destined to lose them.
So, let’s get real.
Lincoln asserts that America’s demise could only come from within. Perhaps he believed that the corruption of the policies of economy and government could bring us to our knees. This prophetic knowledge has proven accurate in modern times. Avarice in enterprise at the expense of the common citizen has caused the American political climate to trend away from true democracy, where the majority is no longer represented and the ideals of pluralism and majoritarianism are lost. When large, powerful corporations control media, money and government, an irresolvable conflict of interest occurs in which the few control the many. A prime example: Monsanto, a multi-billion dollar biochemical company, which has purportedly caused untold suffering through unsavory business practices, including questionable lobbying practices and genetic mutation of food for human consumption. At first glance, it would seem that the momentum behind Monsanto’s exorbitantly wealthy and powerful executive-lobbyist structure is unstoppable, and poses a real threat to the democratic process and health of the nation as a whole, both figuratively and literally. Monsanto, and every corporate giant like it, could justifiably be called the greatest threat to America’s freedom and future prosperity. The figureheads of these corporations have proven they have little concern for anyone or anything, aside from theacquisition of immediate, ruthless and immense capital.
Let’s not forget our current plight: the Great Recession of the 21stcentury. It is estimated that 1% of the nation’s population people now own 35% of the nation’s total wealth, and as the earnings of low-income families continue to decline, the earnings of the wealthy steadily increase. A whopping 60% of the jobs lost during the recession were mid-wage ($14-$20 / hour), but of the jobs regained by the government’s attempts to heal the economy, 58% were of a lesser wage, and only 28% of the jobs regained were in the lost medium income bracket. Thus, the age-old maxim holds true; the poor are getting poorer, and the rich are getting richer. The purported cause for this recent recession is, simply put, bank failure, rooted in unwise investment and loaning strategies – particularly in the housing market. In a capitalist society such as ours, the health of the country rests in the hands of our leading financial institutions, and the policies that they endorse. If their business ethics do not embody the foresight and accountability needed to protect and enrich the general populace, the resulting shaky ground upon which our financial status rests does not hold firm under any pressure.
Did Lincoln really say that?
It is argued that Lincoln never actually spoke the demise-of-our-nation quote in quite the way it is commonly phrased and attributed to him. Another version of events asserts that the quote was paraphrased from an address by Abraham Lincoln at the Young Men’s Lyceum in Springfield, IL, in which the quote is said to be:
“If destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen we must live through all time or die by suicide.”
In this version of the speech, there is a more positive tone to Lincoln’s sentiments, with the self-destruct warning given almost an afterthought. Through these words, Lincoln empowers the American people with the knowledge of their unique position as “freedmen,” and the authority to pilot the nation’s destiny. The warning that the nation might fail in a demise of our own choosing gives us at once the problem of and the solution for the fall of the republic. This is a call to action for all American citizens, being born free, to participate in politics and control the course of events that we must live in, and thereby ensure the continuation of that freedom.
But all is not yet lost. And we must not present a problem without also suggesting a solution.
A serious attempt at of the preservation of our freedom is being spearheaded by the coalition building effort of the American Democracy Project. This initiative by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities has undertaken the mission of education and motivation of young adults in American universities, encouraging traditional participation in government policy-making. They are intent upon instilling this behavior in students as a habitual life choice. I believe this is exactly the type of initiative agenda that must be undertaken by the American citizenry as a whole. It encourages positive, constructive involvement in government affairs through educated intervention and pre-established opportunity.
The very foundation of our republic was built on this principle of involvement and transparency, and the opportunity for every citizen to influence public policy is innate in this system of government. It seems that human nature does not lend itself to self-education and thoughtful intervention in politics, and the necessity for such involvement was never greater than today. There exists today a climate of disillusionment and dissatisfaction with government leadership, with everyone talking and complaining about the state of our nation, with very few citizens actually participating in an effort to effect change.
Simply put: education, involvement and awareness, collectively, are key to turning this thing around. Apathy has no place in the heart of a forward-thinking American.