Believe it or not, at a certain point, every empire ends. Never because it wants to, but because it cannot see beyond itself. It does not know how to identify and address its blind spots. It believes it is the master of all things not in its control. They could not hear the organized whispers of those that they simply overlooked, or worse, still oppressed. They stretched themselves so thin that they could no longer recognize the core of themselves. They believed that they could outsmart change standing right where they were.
In empires past, most of those ends had to do with time, geography, or technology. That will always be true on some level, but those fields have been leveled more than ever in the 21st century. Intellect and ideas have and should always play an outsized role in holding and expanding power. But intellect alone will never be enough. It is said that knowledge is power. If that is true, then face and evidence-based approaches to solving societal problems will be the most powerful solutions. For the last couple decades in this nation there has been a committed and well-funded attack on objective truth and knowledge. Science and history have been thrown into the realm of relativity. This is fine for academic pursuits and validating theory, but the minute we start to ignore facts and evidence in governance, we start an intentional walk towards our own end.
We know better than ever that brute force or fear and mussel-based policies do not elevate a culture. They demean it. Knowledge and the mental and emotional character to weld it well should win the day. Sadly, too often this is not the case. We are amid the biggest test of our national character that most have ever known. So, the issue now lies more on what that intellectual and emotional character that will lead us into the future will look like.
This pandemic will test us like few things have. The places in the world that have been led by tested knowledge. Science and a steady message of calm will surely fair better than those who choose to popular ill-informed opinion and cynicism to rule the day.
The world has become too small for anyone to believe that they do not have a place in it. And for wherever that place is, it is inextricably tied to every other place.
For hundreds of years, America was the place that the world looked to when the reality of degradation weighed too heavily on them when your station allowed you little. America (in theory) promised you something more. For so many, America was a journey towards hope. We all can point to dozens of stories of the so-called “American Dream” made real. Most of it lived in the realm of rhetoric. It was not that the stories were untrue that we were told. It was more that the expression of that dream did not play out for too many for all the wrong reasons.
This has always been the case. Sadly, the narrative of disenfranchisement is being expressed in ways that defy irony. Narratives of better times have gone by, or too many of this or that group want to be us. To change us. The definition of who or what qualifies to be American is seen through a narrower and narrower, self-serving lens. There are those who believe that the experiment always was, or is heading toward failure. There are people on both sides of the political spectrum that believe that our time is over. I believe that we have never fully embraced the ideas that belief was based on. For too many it was easy not to. They were doing fine. They sculpted a narrative that supported that perception. That narrative was never fully true, whole or honest. It left too many hard fought and bloody sacrifices untold. It left too many atrocities unspoken. It left too many people unheard. Even when they were part of the moments that defined us.
Our inability to express the kind of honesty of character that our founding fathers aspired to is not unexpected. They were not the people that they put on paper, but they expected that we would be constantly committed to the underlying principles they wrote.
If we are at the end of a time, it is totally within our powers to determine how our children will go forward. So much of that destiny will be defined in how we grow our hearts and minds. Our founding documents have always been an exceptional model. Sadly, we have always struggled to live up to it. Teaching them the meaning behind the words we believe know so well is only now coming to the fore. How they move into the next chapter of the American experiment will be determined by our going deeper for their sake.
Diversity, inclusion, intersectionality, and equity are just a few of the words that, though not said in the constitution, are deeply implied in it as a solution to problems past. Power, privilege, comfort, and entitlement, though not used, were the systems that the constitution was built to address.
If these last few months have taught us anything, it has been that we are far more interconnected than many of us have ever thought about. Intersectionality has taken on whole new meanings. Much of the meanings that it has traditionally embodied have only been magnified by this national crisis. Cultural diversity, and how we express it has always been an excellent barometer for the health of the nation. Now that the nations health is what it at stake, we are still in desperate need for better medicine.
"America is a morality tale, told by the voices you hear the least."
This is a line for the stage play “The Movement: 50 Years of Love & Struggle”. I believe these words have never been more true as the COVID19 virus works its way through the world. The poor and the elderly populations are paying the heaviest price. In the U.S. we see that people of color are taking a disproportionate share of the national pain. This is nothing new, but unlike many of the scourges of the mind (racism, sexism, religious and gender intolerance), a virus does not care what color you are or who you pray to.
There have always been too many Americans who were barely hanging on to the flags promises. They have done it with a quiet dignity that so many in privilege could learn from. Now their conditions are on display more than they have ever been. There are those who thought they were “doing fine” who now find themselves in a position that they may have never imagined, but far too many have known for too long.
Those who represent the gig economy, the hourly worker, the uninsured, the elderly, those with preexisting conditions, the in home caretakers and domestics (most of whom are women of color), those who were isolated before this, the week to week pay-checkers, and so many more. Theirs is the stories our government needs to listen to, and respond to the most.
If the "economy" means anything, it will be found in how well we help those people through this time. These are the people who have, and always will, define the economy. If sickness, insecurity, material and emotional degradation are allowed to take a sustained toll on them, it will only prolong our collective recovery. Moreover, this time, much like 9/11, will be generation defining. What will be the long term lessons that we give them?
I assert that we have for too long been focused on the wrong things.
The wrong words.
The wrong self.
Money over people. Look over substance. Heat over light.
The narrative of the most prosperous country in the world is only as valid for as many who know it's prosperity. It is incumbent upon us all to better learn the nature of those words implied in our constitution so we may better address the problems implicated in the constitution. We need to engage in a new kind of national literacy based in understanding that we are, all of us, brothers and sisters under a still unfulfilled national vision. Founded to address so many of humanity's ills of the day. This is the moment to begin building again on the national mandate so that we may realize that grand vision. If we do not, we will continue to tear ourselves apart from the middle. Sadly, all we will leave our children to build with is ash.