“Is this a great country, or what?”
This expression is used by comedians and pundits as a punch line to an endless array of stories that show the slight wackiness of the way things work in this country — things like high school dropouts that become millionaires, or movie stars and celebrities that do absolutely senseless things and get away with them.
But the fact remains, at its core, this question is an expression of a hard truth. This is a great country. It has great resources, climate and people. Simply put, the United States of America is a great nation, based on its history and the impact that it has had on individuals and nations across the world. No other nation comes close to matching the record of accomplishments that this country, and its citizens as individuals, achieved in the 19th and 20th Centuries.
There is no reason to think that we should be less great in the 21st Century.
Are there obstacles to our continued prosperity? Absolutely. Are they insurmountable? Only if we wish them to be.
Our exceptionalism as a nation is a result of our traditional way of confronting challenges in front of us and overcoming them. We have done so as a result of individual character, nurtured by the liberty to act, and inspiration by leadership and example. That leadership takes many forms: professional, religious, political and, yes, even ‘community’ leaders that are recognized for their influence within various groups without specific legal powers.
The election next week provides an opportunity to address one aspect of our national leadership. We are free to choose our representatives in the national legislative branch and scores of executive and legislative representatives for local and state office. To the extent that political leadership contributes to our nation’s exceptionalism, this is the time to ensure that leadership measures up to our expectations. In order for our nation to be great, it must have great leadership. However, in spite of the beliefs of the ‘political class,’ while great political leadership is necessary for our nation to be great — it is not sufficient by itself to make it so. Political leadership contributes to our nation’s greatness by providing the environment and structure for individuals to achieve and contributing to the inspiration to do so.
The force of law and regulation does not impose prosperity and achievement on those it governs — at best all it can do is enable individuals, exercising their freedom to act, to achieve prosperity and discover things that benefit society as a whole. As George Washington said:
Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.
So our task this next election day is to carefully choose the representatives we empower to make decisions for us. Our expectations of them should reflect our expectations of ourselves and our future. We must choose the leadership that shares our expectations, and we should ensure that they, too, have great expectations for our nation.
We dare not support those with small aims, lest they constrain us to small results. If we are to break free of the indebtedness in which we’re currently trapped; if we are to be independent as a sovereign nation to act morally in our own best interest and in the best interest of freedom across the world; if we are to sustain the the creative energy and advancement of technology and education that we have developed over the past two hundred years; we must choose leaders equal to those expectations.
We need leaders that will act rightly and boldly to turn away from the path we’re traveling. We have an opportunity to choose freedom over mediocrity, individual action over government control.
We need to have courage and great expectations, rather than fear and submission to smaller ideas.
We need to have great expectations, and hold our leadership accountable to those expectations every day that they hold office.
And while we’re doing that, we need to go out and achieve our own great expectations for ourselves and our families. “We the People” have to maintain our own levels of courage and intensity, in spite of all the obstacles we individually face.
We need to regain the sense that anything is possible — Build a railroad across a continent? Sure. Tame huge rivers with dams? No Problem. Develop live saving drugs and technology? Routine. Make almost any information accessible anywhere in the world? Done.
So why should we now accept the idea that we can’t reduce our national debt and restore our economy? Why should we accept the idea that things are “too complicated” for us to understand and that we must allow ‘those who do’ to act for us in the ‘new normal’ of mediocrity? Instead, we should reject those leaders who are telling us these things, and get on with doing what our own ideas and freedom to act will allow.
If enough of us do that, we’ll persevere and restore our nation. It’s that simple. Throughout our history, great leaders have understood that. Let’s find some more that still do and put them in charge for a while.