The Coming Revolution: Signs from America's Past That Signal Our Nation's Future
by Richard G. Lee
What is the source of America’s greatness? By any standard this country has a remarkable story to tell, with its dramatic history and an enviable record of achievements in almost any area you can think of. America is the world’s longest surviving democratic republic, operating under the same Constitution and laws for the past 236 years. The nation enjoys the greatest level of personal liberty, the highest standard of living, the largest economy, the most dynamic commercial and industrial sectors, and the most consequential foreign policy of any nation—all of it defended by the best-trained and most technologically sophisticated military in human history.
But America is not merely the world’s richest and most powerful nation. It is also the most benevolent, rushing to the four corners of the earth to bring relief to nations stricken by wars, famines, and disasters of every kind. Public and private charities, relief organizations, and international aid societies are constantly on the move, reaching out to “the least of these” wherever there is pain and suffering. They do it without pay and often without credit of any kind because they understand that the blessings of prosperity have made this nation a beacon of hope to the rest of the world.
On average, the American people give more than $300 billion each year to charitable causes. According to the most recent report from Giving USA, Americans donated more than $303 billion in 2009, $315 billion in 2008, and $295 billion in 2007. These donations are distributed among approximately 1.2 million IRS-registered charities and 350,000 religious congregations. This is in addition to the $25 billion the U.S. government spends each year in foreign aid to countries around the globe. Germany’s foreign aid, by comparison, ranks second with contributions of about $13 billion.
Americans give the largest percentage of their charitable donations to religious organizations, at approximately $101 billion, followed by educational organizations at $40 billion, charitable foundations at $31 billion, human services organizations at $27 billion, and health organizations at $22.5 billion. Especially interesting is the fact that 65 percent of U.S. households with annual incomes less than $100,000 donate to charity.1 Wealthy Americans may give more, but middleclass Americans give a larger percentage of their income. In addition to the financial gifts, America also leads the world in volunteerism, donating time and service to charitable and faith-based organizations.
And that’s a custom as old as the nation itself.
In the 1830s, the French statesman Alexis de Tocqueville visited America and was impressed by many things, but the one thing that really surprised him was the great number of “voluntary associations” in this country. In his classic work, Democracy in America, he writes:
Americans of all ages, all stations in life, and all types of disposition are forever forming associations. There are not only commercial and industrial associations in which all take part, but others of a thousand different types—religious, moral, serious, futile, very general and very limited, immensely large and very minute. Americans combine to give fêtes, found seminaries, build churches, distribute books, and send missionaries to the antipodes. Hospitals, prisons, and schools take shape in that way. Finally, if they want to proclaim a truth or propagate some feeling by the encouragement of a great example, they form an association.2
This spirit of generosity and commitment to worthy causes was unique in that day, he felt, and was matched only by the industry and imagination of the American businessman. When he looked at all the incredible achievements this country had racked up in less than a century, he marveled at the wealth of the American Spirit:
The Americans arrived but yesterday in the land where they live, and they have already turned the whole order of nature upside down to their profit. They have joined the Hudson to the Mississippi and linked the Atlantic with the Gulf of Mexico across a continent of more than 500 leagues separating the two seas. The longest railways yet constructed are in the United States.3
Entrepreneurship and vision were the hallmarks of American business then just as they are today, but what Tocqueville found most compelling was the fact that everywhere he looked the citizens were working together, building things, giving freely of their time and labor. “I am even more struck,” he writes, “by the innumerable multitude of little undertakings than by the extraordinary size of some of their industrial enterprises.”4
Most of what this nation has achieved over the past three centuries is due, I believe, to the faith and character of the American people. These qualities are under great stress today, that’s true, but where would the world be if it weren’t for the resolute faith and indomitable spirit of America’s pioneers? If you ask the average person to name our greatest achievements, many would no doubt point to education. As early as the mid-1600s, public education was already widespread in New England. Thomas Jefferson was among the first to formulate plans for universal public education, and by the end of the nineteenth century that goal had been accomplished.
America is also home to some of the world’s leading universities— the whole world sends its sons and daughters to this country for the advanced studies that will allow them to succeed in whatever professions they may choose. The context and character of secondary and higher education have changed dramatically over the past half century—not for the better, unfortunately—but it’s true nevertheless that the emphasis on education is among our most noteworthy achievements.
Visitors like Tocqueville, as mentioned above, have been impressed by such things as the vast network of railroads spanning the continent, but from the earliest days of the republic, we have profited from the contributions of individual inventors and innovators, such as Benjamin Franklin, who gave us the lightning rod, the Franklin stove, bifocal reading glasses, improved printing presses, and countless other inventions. The Wright brothers were among the first to discover the basic principles of lift and thrust in fixed-wing aircraft, which opened the door to modern aviation. Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin, which transformed the processing of cotton fiber and revolutionized the textile industry.
Thomas Edison, “the genius of Menlo Park,” was granted more than one thousand patents during his life for his inventions with electricity, including the incandescent lightbulb, the telephone, the telegraph, and the motion picture camera. And there was Henry Ford, whose goal was not simply to build a better car, but to build an automobile that every family could afford. He built the first Model-T Ford in 1908—the Tin Lizzie—and shortly thereafter developed the concept of the assembly line, which revolutionized manufacturing the world over. George Eastman, who invented and popularized the Kodak camera, gave us the first portable and affordable cameras that anyone could operate. Such inventions have literally changed the world.
At the same time, American scientists and engineers have pioneered some of the most formidable advances in civil engineering, such as the construction of the Hoover Dam during the midst of the Great Depression. It was a monumental undertaking, and it continues to provide electricity and water today for more than eight million people in the states of California, Nevada, and Arizona. Any list of American achievements in science would have to include the great strides this country has made in medicine and medical technology, improving the lives of billions around the world.
Advances in medical practice and emergency treatment save lives every day through fast-response trauma teams and state-of-the-art surgical procedures. Modern medicines have extended life-expectancy by decades while advances in audiology, dentistry, and optometry have improved the quality of life for millions more. America is still the only country to put a man on the moon or to send an unmanned rover vehicle to the planet Mars, some forty million miles from Earth. And I should also mention the successes of Hollywood, the cinema, documentary filmmakers, radio, television, and the broadcast media in all their various forms. No other medium has done more to inform, educate, and entertain us than the arts of broadcast and film.
Along with all of this, the telephone may be the real success story of our time. Telephone technology has come a long way since the days of Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison, giving us the Internet, high-speed local- and wide-area networks, cellular telephones, the iPhone and iPad, and countless other modern inventions. America leads the world in the development, distribution, and commercial success of all these modern marvels, and has unleashed a new era of mass communications.
No one disputes the importance of these things, but few realize that none of them would have happened if it weren’t for the even greater achievements in political discourse: specifically, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States, including the Bill of Rights. These two documents, which for the first time in history
laid out the principles of limited government and natural rights in a precise, ordered, and prescriptive manner, are America’s gift to the world. The War of Independence that led to the establishment of this new nation was not simply a blow for personal freedom; it was above all a statement of the value the American people place on liberty and freedom of conscience for all people. And it was a statement of our willingness to defend those liberties at home and abroad.
AMERICA’S GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT
As we consider these various achievements, it’s important to recognize that the true source of America’s greatness is not merely the inventions and creature comforts we’ve accumulated over the years but the wisdom and vision that made them possible. That legacy comes to us from men such as John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin, and George Washington, through the values and beliefs they enshrined in our founding documents. Among the greatest gifts one generation could ever give to another are freedom of worship, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of association, and the right to a fair and just hearing. These were all gifts from the Founders.
It is important to understand, furthermore, that these liberties are the outward expressions of our Judeo-Christian heritage. When the Pilgrims left the safety and comfort of their homes in Europe to cross an angry sea and plant the first colonies in the New World, they were guided by their strong Christian faith. The principles they lived by have been the cornerstone of America’s success for the past 250 years and are still the moral compass we follow today. Despite the claims so often repeated these days that the Founders were simply Deists who believed in a watchmaker God who left the creation to fend for itself,
we now know that fifty-two of fifty-six Founding Fathers were devout believers in Jesus Christ.
I have written about this in previous works and won’t recite all the evidence here, but even the man whom most people agree was the least religious of the Founders, Benjamin Franklin, knew that no great nation would ever rise upon these shores without the aid and intervention of a great and wise God. In one of the most surprising speeches of the revolutionary era, the sage of Philadelphia reminded his colleagues in the Continental Congress that, “Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it” (Psalm 127:1). He then petitioned that body, which had been hopelessly mired in debate, to begin each day’s deliberations with prayer. The delegates were humbled by his words because they knew he was right. They paused then for a time of prayer, and they vowed to pray every day in the same manner until they had resolved their differences. The document they produced has guided this nation ever since, and it was even hailed by an English prime minister, William Gladstone, who said, “The American Constitution is, so far as I can see, the most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man.”5
The story of America’s greatness is not only about glory and triumph. Some of the nation’s greatest achievements were only made possible by the adversity our ancestors endured. Between 20,000 and 25,000 Americans lost their lives in the American Revolution, and nearly the same number were seriously wounded. Despite the risks, they were willing to sacrifice their lives for the great prize of independence and individual liberty. More than 600,000 Americans died in the Civil War, but that struggle preserved the nation and transformed our understanding of human and civil rights. Add to that the more than 115,000 Americans who died in the First World War and the 292,000 in the Second, and you have a glimpse of the enormous price our predecessors paid to keep this country free.
More than any other nation, including all the great empires of the past, America has spread the dream of liberty around the world and helped to bring a higher standard of living to untold millions. And like those ancient empires, which were the standard-bearers of culture and learning for a time, today America has been entrusted with transmitting the blessings of freedom. More than mere business connections or scientific expertise, what America has to share with other nations is our appreciation of the values of integrity, self-discipline, and self-determination passed down to us by the Founders. Whether it’s in regard to politics or economics or industry or any of the modern disciplines, we will find that in every area America’s greatness is founded upon the moral and religious values of those pioneers.
As the scholar and historian Russell Kirk has written, “Every people, no matter how savage or how civilized, have some form of religion: that is, some form of belief in a great supernatural power that influences human destiny.”6 Culture, Kirk said famously, comes from the cult. That is, the distinctive qualities and customs of every culture arise from the religious beliefs of its people. The Communists attempted to deny the existence of God and made atheism the only acceptable form of belief. But as the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1989– 1990 made clear, the empire had failed to stamp out religious faith completely, and today Christianity is thriving once again in the former Soviet bloc. The Communists discovered that no nation can survive for long without a foundation of sound moral principles.
Concern for the well-being of others is one of the key traits of good character. Unfortunately, we see less and less of that these days. And when we see rising crime rates, evidence of corruption in business and government, the breakdown of the family, the increase in out-of-wedlock childbirths, the ongoing tragedy of abortion, and a rising climate of immorality and vulgarity in the popular culture, we have to wonder if our great moral heritage can survive. Author and attorney Charles Colson has written that, “A nation or a culture cannot endure for long unless it is undergirded by common values such as valor, public-spiritedness, respect for others and for the law; it cannot stand unless it is populated by people who will act on motives superior to their own immediate interest.”7
The American ideals of freedom and individual rights, charity, duty, honesty, and love for others are, above all, religious beliefs. Even though America is less visibly a religious nation today than it was a century ago, it is the depth and strength of the foundations laid down by our Christian forebears that have allowed us to thrive in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. And, even with all our struggles and doubts, we are still living on the dividends of that investment.
America’s success in almost any area is a tribute to the beliefs that shaped the American character. “These beliefs,” writes Russell Kirk, “are the fatherhood of God, the brotherhood of man, and the dignity of man. From these beliefs have developed Christian convictions as to how we should conduct our lives, how we should treat our fellow human beings, and what makes life worth living.”8 Even though we may be troubled by growing hostility toward our Christian faith and the increasing coarseness of American culture, we can be certain that God will not give up on this country so long as a faithful remnant continues to seek His favor and proclaim these truths.
THREATS FROM WITHIN
The problem is that we have already come a long way down the road of dissolution, and it will take more than a little effort to recover our losses. According to the most recent Census Bureau reports, the number of people between the ages of twenty-five and thirty-four who have never married is now greater than those who have married. This has never happened before in our history—or in world history for that matter. Married adults now make up just 52 percent of the population, which is the lowest level since records have been kept.9
This has a direct impact, of course, on the illegitimacy rate, which is now almost 41 percent overall, and 72 percent among African Americans.10 No wonder so many young people find themselves trapped in chaotic and empty lives. The link between illegitimacy and poverty is well documented, and the link between poverty and crime is undeniable.
Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan was among the first to warn the nation what was in store for this country if the breakdown of the traditional family persisted. In a stern warning penned in 1965, he said,
From the wild Irish slums of the nineteenth-century Eastern seaboard to the riot-torn suburbs of Los Angeles, there is one unmistakable lesson in American history: A community that allows a large number of young men to grow up in broken families, dominated by women, never acquiring a stable relationship to male authority, never acquiring any rational expectations about the future—that community asks for and gets chaos . . . [In such a society] crime, violence, unrest, unrestrained lashing out at the whole social structure—these are not only to be expected, they are virtually inevitable.11
A complex society such as ours is made up of a whole range of unspoken commitments. We agree to respect one another’s privacy, property, and personal dignity. We agree to abide by a code of ethics, legal and moral restraints. We agree to care for our loved ones and family, and to be responsible members of our community. We also agree to pay our taxes, participate in free elections, and contribute to the common defense. But what happens when those commitments no longer matter? What happens when young men and women give up on marriage and responsible family formation? What happens when a generation of young Americans, or more than one, is abandoned to the wasteland of idleness, drugs, and premarital sex?
When a culture is vital and thriving, we take our roles as citizens seriously. We agree to support causes that are worthy and to avoid behaviors that are destructive. These commitments are part of the common code of decency passed down from one generation to the next. Although there are individuals in the media, the popular culture, and the halls of academia who insist these old-fashioned ideas no longer matter, we need to remember what the Soviets learned after seventy years of communism: no nation can survive for long without a body of sound moral principles.
In a small but important little book called The Broken Hearth: Reversing the Moral Collapse of the American Family, former secretary of education William Bennett makes the case that the American family is the most important incubator of the values that allow individuals and their communities to prosper. Healthy families instill values and beliefs that are essential for happiness and success. Among these are the habits of trust, altruism, personal responsibility, and mutual obligation. Unfortunately the well-being of the American family has been subverted in recent years by a sustained assault on marriage and family, and the evidence of that is not a pretty sight. Bennett writes:
Since 1960, the divorce rate has more than doubled, out-of-wedlock births have skyrocketed from one in twenty to one in three, the percentage of single-parent families has more than tripled, the number of couples cohabiting has increased more than elevenfold, the fertility rate has decreased by almost half. In record numbers, we have
seen fathers deserting their wives and children—and being permitted to do so without reproach or penalty of any kind. We have seen stay-at-home mothers mocked.12
Throughout most of human history marriage has been regarded as a sacred covenant, yet today we are told that marriage and family life are a burden, outdated customs with little or no importance. Unfortunately it is not just the rock stars and teen idols who are propagating this nonsense, Bennett writes, but “feminists, academic analysts with an agenda, and libertines masquerading as liberationists.”13 There are celebrities and popular television personalities who would have us believe that “sin is in” and faith in God is a dangerous myth. Those assumptions are not only false but dangerous to our entire way of life. As Bennett concludes, “There is a natural order that we may build on and improve but that we attempt to do away with at peril of the very fabric of our lives, our happiness, our true and solid contentment. Too many of us have attempted to do just that and have reaped a whirlwind.”14
You don’t have to spend a lot of time browsing the morning’s headlines to recognize the levels of controversy and chaos that pervade American society these days. The nation is socially, politically, and morally divided on so many issues; immersed in disputes of one
kind or another; and wrangling over questions unimaginable just a few years ago. It often seems as if everything is now up for grabs.
The Pledge of Allegiance, which every American ought to be able to recite with pride, has become a topic of debate in many places, and concepts such as American exceptionalism and manifest destiny are either forgotten or ignored by the mainstream culture. Simply flying the American flag is considered controversial in some places, and
posting the Ten Commandments in schools or public buildings is out of the question. All of this compels me to ask, are we still “one nation under God”? Is this once-proud nation of immigrants from every corner of the globe still, in fact, “indivisible”? The red and blue maps emblazoned across the front pages of newspapers and websites after every election tell pretty much the same story. The social consensus is fragmented. We are a nation of red and blue states, red and blue counties, and even red and blue neighborhoods. Our political and cultural differences are magnified by the media to such an extent that we often wonder if the republic can survive.
Not long ago we learned that Washington lawmakers were working behind closed doors, plotting and planning through the night to pass a massive health-care bill and other legislation they knew the American people had overwhelmingly rejected. The results of the 2010 elections were a partial response to that, but we still have many areas of concern. With shocking regularity, the courts have been handing down edicts, overruling the voters on important social issues, defying both common sense and traditional moral values. At the same time, the mass media are continually bombarding us with coarse and violent images that stagger the imagination.
TRUE STRENGTH OF CHARACTER
It would be easy to lose hope in this environment, but sometimes in the midst of all the noise and confusion we hear about an act of kindness that gives us renewed hope that the American Spirit is not dead just yet. We want to believe that, deep down, there is still something good and decent about the American people, and I don’t think that is a false hope. The courage and resolve that made this the greatest, freest, and most prosperous nation on earth refuse to fade away, and every once in a while we witness a spark of humanity that reminds us of that fact. We are still a God-fearing people. And despite the bickering and name-calling, there is still a strong sense that we’re in this thing together.
That is how many of us felt when we first heard the story of Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, who was the pilot on U.S. Airways Flight 1549 from New York to Charlotte on January 15, 2009. Shortly after takeoff that afternoon, Captain Sullenberger radioed the tower that his plane had hit a large flock of birds, and at least one engine was on fire. They talked about landing the Airbus A320 at another airport but soon realized that was going to be impossible. Sully knew they would never make it, so he decided to ditch the plane in the only place where his passengers might actually survive: Manhattan’s Hudson River.
Hundreds of men and women standing on the embankment, driving their cars on the parkway that runs alongside the river, and sitting in the skyscrapers nearby watched in amazement as Sully maneuvered his plane toward the middle of the river and then splashed down with the fuselage and both wings resting safely on top of the water. Coast
Guard and Port Authority boats, as well as a couple of sightseeing boats, quickly encircled the aircraft to pick up the stranded passengers and crew.
Then after two quick tours of the cabin to make sure no one was left onboard, Captain Sullenberger grabbed the pilot’s log from the cockpit and joined the others. He was the last man out, and moments later, as the rescue boats were making their way to shore, the planebegan listing to one side and then slipped farther into the water.
When reporters looked into everything that happened that day, they discovered that life had prepared Sully Sullenberger for that moment. He had learned to fly airplanes as a teenager, attended and graduated from the Air Force Academy near the end of the Vietnam War, and flown fighter jets in the military. He had become an expert on aviation safety and had spoken to professional groups about maintenance and safety procedures. Later when he was interviewed on national television about the events of that day, Sullenberger said, “One way of looking at this might be that for forty-two years I’ve been making small, regular deposits in this bank of experience: education and training. And on January 15 the balance was sufficient so that I could make a very large withdrawal.”15
That’s a nice way of putting it, but it isn’t the whole story. Captain Sullenberger’s first concern was the safety of the people on that plane, and this was what motivated his heroic actions. Certainly education and training can help prepare a person for making critical decisions, but other things are needed as well—things such as faith, courage, determination, and love for others. Captain Sully’s words inspired a lot of people and reminded us what really matters, but they also reminded us of all the brave men and women who serve this country in times of crisis.
Who will ever forget the example of the New York firefighters who raced into the World Trade Center in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, knowing they might never return? The towers were weakened—smoke and debris were everywhere—it was just a matter of time until they began to collapse. But people were dying in those buildings, and there was no time to waste. Without hesitation the firefighters climbed the stairs, hundreds of them, with no thought for their own safety, guiding thousands toward the exits, bringing hope and relief and renewed determination to men and women who might otherwise have been stranded in those doomed towers.
Those public servants weren’t in it for the money. Not one of them was looking for glory. They could have refused to go up, but they accepted the risks and went in because they believed in something greater and more enduring than their own personal safety—the call of duty, the love of others, and the pledge that each of them had made to defend, protect, and serve. Like thousands of police officers and firefighters all across this country who risk their lives each day, the New York firefighters embodied the finest traditions of honor and bravery. And a grateful nation will never forget what they did.
It’s important to remember that spirit of caring and compassion when we are constantly bombarded by bad news. The shooting of Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords by an irate gunman on January 10, 2011, was yet another reminder that there is still a lot of senseless violence in our streets. But even in that case, where more than a dozen people were wounded or murdered by a deranged psychopath, it was the courage and heroic actions of ordinary Americans who risked their lives to subdue the shooter and render aid to the injured that will be remembered long afterward.
Later that day during a live TV interview with NBC’s Brian Williams, one of the heroes made the comment that those of us living in the age of 9/11 can no longer just stand by and watch when something bad is happening. We have to be prepared to jump in and resist evil, to take a stand even when it means almost certain peril. I thought that was a perceptive observation. Unfortunately, it is a lesson that can only be learned through adversity.
We’ve all heard stories of cowards who stand by and watch when innocent people are being victimized or people who refuse to get involved because it is inconvenient or dangerous. But I think there is less of that today than there was a decade ago. One of the best examples of that sort of bravery is the story of the five young men who rushed the cockpit of United Flight 93 to stop a fourth group of 9/11 terrorists from crashing that plane into the White House or the Capitol building. During cell phone conversations with wives and friends back home, the young men learned that two planes had already struck the twin towers in New York and a third had hit the Pentagon. Then, when they realized their own plane was being hijacked, those five brave men—Todd Beamer, Jeremy Glick, Mark Bingham, Tom Burnett, and Lou Nacke—decided to take action. It was an all-or-nothing gamble, and they knew it could ultimately cost them their own lives, but they were determined to stop the terrorists in their tracks.
Most of us remember the rest of the story: there was a violent struggle in the cockpit; the plane spiraled out of control, then crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, approximately 125 miles from Washington, DC. Although America still grieves the loss of the passengers and crew of United 93 and the heroes who refused to let an even greater disaster take place on their watch, their actions gave the nation a new sense of hope at a very difficult time. Since that day the heroes have been memorialized for their bravery. Books and articles have been written about them, and Todd Beamer’s call to action, “Let’s roll!” has become a rallying cry that will be remembered forever.
Just thinking about that amazing act of self-sacrifice reminds us once again of the inner core of goodness that still survives, as strong as ever, in so many Americans. Hearing about such acts of valor brings things back into focus. It is as if we have to experience such horrors before we understand what really matters. And when there is so much disappointment and self-doubt all around us, it helps to know there are still people who care enough to risk everything for others.
BEYOND THE CALL OF DUTY
Jesus said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13), and that is the story of another American hero, Marine Corporal Jason Dunham, who served in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom. In the spring of 2004, Jason was a team leader with the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines. While on patrol in the village of Husaybah, Iraq, his team spotted a suspicious-looking individual in a white SUV. As they approached the vehicle, the man jumped out and began threatening the marines. During the brief struggle that ensued, Jason realized the man was going to throw an armed grenade. As soon as he saw it, the corporal yelled to his men to take cover. Then, in a flash, he knocked the grenade from the man’s hand, took off his Kevlar helmet and covered the grenade, then threw himself on top of it.
Wall Street Journal reporter Michael Phillips, who was embedded with Jason’s battalion at the time, was so moved by the young man’s act of bravery that he told the story in his book, The Gift of Valor. Corporal Dunham had less than five seconds to make that fateful decision, Phillips wrote, but he didn’t hesitate to sacrifice himself for others. If he hadn’t reacted so quickly, the carnage would have been much worse, but Jason Dunham willingly gave his own life to save his fellow marines.16
Corporal Dunham survived in a coma long enough to be evacuated to Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland. The magnitude of his wounds was just too great, but his mother and father were at his bedside when Jason died eight days later. They were heartbroken, but they nevertheless understood the courage and commitment that had motivated their son’s actions.
On January 11, 2007, President George W. Bush presented the Medal of Honor to the Dunham family in a ceremony at the White House. Afterward, Jason’s father said he wanted everyone to understand that while he was proud of his son’s act of bravery, these are the types of heroic actions our young service men and women are prepared to perform every day. They are all heroes, he said.17 And we can’t help but ask, as many others have asked before, where do we find such brave men and women?
The answer, I believe, is that we find them among people who understand the true meaning of duty, honor, country, and all those fine virtues the mainstream culture loves to ridicule and disdain. We find them among people who have seen the arrogance and selfishness of those who refuse to risk anything for anyone else and have rejected that kind of thinking. Even if we sometimes feel that decency and concern for others are disappearing from our culture, it’s encouraging to discover it is still there, and there are still men and women willing to go beyond the call of duty.
If we want to see our communities restored, mothers and fathers will need to instill self-discipline and good judgment in their children, teaching them by example. Our churches will need to teach the precepts of faith, hope, and love; and the schools ought to be teaching our children the importance of personal responsibility and self-respect. But for these lessons to be understood and applied, there has to be something even more essential: there has to be an awareness that we are not alone. We are part of a family, a community, and a nation; and the privilege of citizenship in this great nation means that we have a number of important rights and responsibilities.
The Founders believed education was an essential component of citizenship, as was instruction in moral and religious values. The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 expressed it this way: “Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.”18 Schools, they said, were entrusted with the task of helping to mold the character of young people, and the Christian faith was a vital part of that.
Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence anddelegate to the Continental Congress, offered this counsel:
Let the children who are sent to those schools be taught to read and write and above all, let both sexes be carefully instructed in the principles and obligations of the Christian religion. This is the most essential part of education. The great enemy of the salvation of man, in my opinion, never invented a more effectual means of extirpating Christianity from the world than by persuading mankind that it was improper to read the Bible at schools.19
The constitution of the commonwealth of Massachusetts at that time went even further, stating that, “It is the right, as well as the duty, of all men in society, publicly, and at stated seasons, to worship the Supreme Being, the Great Creator and Preserver of the Universe. . . .”20 It may be surprising to some people to realize that this was the common
view of practically all Americans during the founding era, and for more than a hundred years afterward. But no one expressed the views of the citizens of New England better than our second president, John Adams, who said,
[I]t is religion and morality alone which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand. . . . We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. . . . Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to thegovernment of any other.21
There is no way to explain away such statements. The United States of America was founded on Christian principles because the Founders were building a nation and laying the foundations for an empire. They understood that good citizenship demands good character. They were well educated, steeped in the history of great nations of the past, and they knew that no nation can survive unless the citizens are infused with the principles of sound moral judgment from their earliest years. The president of the Continental Congress, Elias Boudinot, explained why this was so important: “Good government generally begins in the family,” he said, “and if the moral character of a people once degenerate, their political character must soon follow.”22
Men and women with shabby morals and weak character cannot be expected to sustain a great nation. They can’t vote wisely, lead productive lives, or educate their own children. The Founders understood that character and virtue grow out of the spiritual truths we learn in our earliest years, but that view is no longer taught in the nation’s public schools and universities. Over the past century, our leading educational institutions have made Christianity virtually unmentionable—not just prayer in the schools but any mention of Jesus Christ or the beliefs of at least 80 percent of the American people.
Even though all of our first universities—including Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Dartmouth, Brown, and Columbia—were founded as Christian institutions with seminaries to train clergy and educate future leaders of the republic, today’s educators no longer tolerate those beliefs. Instead of sound moral instruction, students on thousands of campuses all across the country are being exposed to a steady drumbeat of anti-Americanism, race and gender hostility, and a preoccupation with social and sexual experimentation. Classes and
entire academic departments are devoted to “oppression studies,” “women’s studies,” “queer studies,” and other forms of politically correct programming.
At many schools, incoming freshmen are required to attend mandatory sensitivity training sessions and seminars on race and gender. Dorm counselors are expected to hold encounter sessions in which new students are indoctrinated into the pro-homosexual campus culture through role-playing and other types of psychological manipulation.
The campus code words diversity and tolerance, which are so pervasive, are simply a mask for the anti-American, hypersexualized, pro-homosexual, and anti-Christian bias that is now the norm in the vast majority of our colleges.
With all this happening on high school and college campuses, how can we expect our young people to develop the character and commitment to duty that will make them good citizens? American sociologist Paul Hollander has described the modern university as “the reservoir of the adversary culture.”23 Rather than teaching our bright young men and women to respect their country and its heritage of freedom and self-reliance, professors and administrators have created an environment that is openly hostile to the beliefs and aspirations of the Founders.
Silly ideas we laughed at back in the 1960s are now the reigning dogma on many of America’s most prestigious campuses. Students are taught that all values and beliefs are relative, that truth is in the eye of the beholder, that conventional religion is a myth, and only science and mathematics are to be trusted. Subjects such as history and literature have become vehicles for indoctrinating students in the doctrines of multiculturalism and diversity. Our children are taught by their sociology professors that the American way of life is no better than that of the most backward tribes. And for purveyors of the environmental movement, our way of life is a threat to global ecology. Some members
of that movement claim that human beings are the problem, so the number of people on the planet needs to be dramatically reduced to save the earth.24
Concepts such as civic virtue, character building, and moral restraint, on the other hand, are scorned by faculty members while the false doctrines our parents rejected, including communism and Marxism, are applauded. I am told by university associates that the surest path to tenure for young professors these days is to espouse a Marxist interpretation of their academic discipline. And the surest way to be denied tenure or fired is to let it be known that you have a Christian worldview.
The greatest evils are no longer sloth, gluttony, envy, and pride, but capitalism and Christianity, which are openly mocked in some places. As one recent study puts it, “Since the social revolution of the sixties, the agenda of the Left has been to transform the United States into a socialist utopia; consequently, the issue of greatest concern on America’s most distinguished university campuses is no longer traditional learning but a new form of social and sexual indoctrination.”25
ASSESSING THE DAMAGE
“Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man . . .” (Romans 1:22–23 nkjv). So wrote the apostle Paul, proving that, ages before today’s radical professors came onto the scene, such behaviors were well known. Sadly, the results were much the same then as now, and we can see the impact of declining standards in a long list of reports detailing the poor performance of American students on standardized tests.
On the 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) science test, for example, 46 percent of American twelfth-grade students scored “below basic.” On the math portion of the exam, 39 percent scored “below basic”—which tells us that nearly half of all high school seniors cannot answer even the most basic algebra and geometry questions. Researchers found that very few students were excelling. In science, just 29 percent of twelfth-grade students scored at the “proficient” level, and just 3 percent scored “advanced.” Math scores were equally disappointing, with 35 percent of U.S. students in the “proficient” group, and a shocking 5 percent at the “advanced” level.26
Performance of American students compared to students in other countries is even more disturbing. The percentage of American college students earning degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics lags well behind the percentage of students from China, India, Japan, Russia, Mexico, and the Middle East. According to research from the Heritage Foundation, the 2007 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) report reveals that students in other countries (especially the Asian countries) consistently outperform U.S. students in science and math.27
Results from the 2009 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) exam, which is administered every three years to students from sixty-five countries, reveal that American teenagers rank well below their peers in the top thirty industrialized countries,
and they continue to score well below average in critical subject areas. While students from Singapore and China scored consistently at the highest levels in all categories, American fifteen-year-old students scored seventeenth in reading, twenty-third in science, and thirty-first in math. They came in twenty-third or twenty-fourth in most subjects, and even lower in subjects in which they were expected to excel.28
For years the evidence of deteriorating educational standards has been most pronounced in the upper grades, with twelfth-grade students scoring generally worse than students in the lower grades. But according to results of the 2009 National Assessment of educational Progress (NAEP) assessments, just 34 percent of fourth graders, 30 percent of eighth graders, and 21 percent of twelfth graders are performing at or above the “proficient” level. Furthermore, just 1 or 2 percent at each grade level scored at the “advanced” level, and relatively large numbers of students didn’t even attain the most basic level.29
Even the current secretary of education, Arne Duncan, had to admit that current levels of educational attainment are a threat to America’s future success. At the first public unveiling of the latest results, Duncan said, “The results released today show that our nation’s students aren’t learning at a rate that will maintain America’s role as an international leader in the sciences.” He added that, “When only 1 or 2 percent of children score at the advanced levels on NAEP, the next generation will not be ready to be world-class inventors, doctors, and engineers.”30
In a stunning comment on the state of public education in this country, the National Commission on Excellence in Education said that, “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war. As it stands, we have allowed this to happen to ourselves . . . we have, in effect, been committing an act of unthinking, unilateral, educational disarmament.”31
You would think such findings would prompt massive changes in public and higher education, but the authors of the summary report for the 1990 National Assessment of Educational Progress were obliged to admit that “large proportions, perhaps more than half, of our elementary, middle, and high-school students are unable to demonstrate competency in challenging subject matter in English, mathematics, science, history, and geography. Further, even fewer appear to be able to use their minds well.” Comments like these, reported by author and educational sociologist Charles J. Sykes, provide a staggering array of anecdotal and statistical information confirming the risks to children
in America’s public schools. His book, Dumbing Down Our Kids, ought to be required reading for every parent and educator.32
Combining the candor of such statements with the fact that the professional “educrats,” the major teachers’ unions, and many of our universities are mainly concerned with the social and sexual indoctrination of America’s young people, you realize we have a big problem. Fortunately not everyone is happy with this situation, and as more and more evidence of the damage being done to the next generation of Americans comes to light, more and more of our citizens are rising to the challenge.
For many of the educational programmers, money is a major motivating factor; but many of those at the forefront of the radical transformation of American values in the schools and colleges are losing supporters and funding. Some of those giant endowments are shrinking. Furthermore the results of the 2010 midterm elections suggest that large numbers of people in this country are giving up on the progressive agenda, and this means many more parents and public officials will be looking for answers concerning what’s been going on in the schools.
A Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey taken in December 2010 revealed that Americans are deeply troubled by the way things have been going in this country. Leading up to the presidential inauguration in January 2009, the number of voters who felt the country was heading in the right direction was below 20 percent. Confidence rose briefly to 40 percent in early May, but it began falling after that. While approximately half of black voters still believed the country was heading in the right direction, 74 percent of whites and 76 percent of all other voters were pessimistic about the course the country was on.33
Subsequently the Rasmussen Poll for June 18, 2011, found just 21 percent of American voters strongly approve of the way President Obama is performing as president. Meanwhile 41 percent said they strongly disapprove, giving the president an approval index rating of –20. In his book In Search of Self-Government, published in late 2010, Scott Rasmussen offered the perceptive observation that “the gap between Americans who want to govern themselves and politicians who want to rule over them may be as big today as the gap between the colonies and England during the 18th century.”34
The concerns that led to the American Revolution were taxation without representation and the imposition of unjust laws by the British Parliament. Among them was the act of Parliament closing the Port of Boston to normal commerce, the appointment of British aristocrats to oversee colonial governments, the protection of English criminals from the judgment of colonial courts, the quartering of British troops in American homes without payment of rent or lodging expenses, and the interference in religious customs with punitive policies and statutes that favored Canada and the growing wave of Catholic immigrants to that country. Furthermore the colonists were not allowed to elect their own representatives to the English House of Commons, and they had no standing in the House of Lords. Ultimately it was these “Intolerable Acts” that propelled the American patriots toward revolution. Because they had no say in their own government and were subject to the whims of autocratic English governors, the colonists concluded that England had no legitimate claim on America.
We are not seeing signs of an insurrection on that scale in this country so far, but a lot of people are on edge because of the incompetent handling of the economy, the bailouts of corrupt financial institutions, the government takeover of automobile and insurance companies, the passage of universal health care, and the threats of increased taxation. There have been no violent demonstrations or marches on the White House—most people believe the 2010 midterm elections sent a message to Congress and are still optimistic that our voices are being heard.
We are by nature a peaceful people who are accustomed to an orderly and natural transition of power. We are hopeful that the presidential election in 2012 will help reduce the interference of the federal government in business and our private lives. But if something should happen to derail those hopes or if enough people begin to feel they are
being cheated and disenfranchised by the administration or its allies on Wall Street and in the federal courts, then who knows what could happen? It doesn’t have to result in a massive demonstration of discontent, and I doubt that it will. It is possible to deal with all these issues politically and diplomatically. But if for some reason the American people come to believe they are being cheated out of their constitutional right to determine how they are governed, then it is possible things could take a very different turn.
All conservative voters really want is to get back to the type of government the Founders gave us in the first place. It is very important that we have a better understanding of our history and why the founding documents were written as they were. We need to understand how revolutionary those documents were and still are, granting unprecedented freedoms to the people and establishing the foundations of the rule of law. If we understand the environment of the revolutionary era as well as the environment we are dealing with today, then we will have a much better grasp of how things will play out from here on.
But let me be clear about this: I believe we are on the threshold of a revolution—a peaceful revolution, to be sure—but a genuine change in how We the People relate to our elected representatives from now on. We believe that substantial changes will have to be made, and the difficult task of undoing some of the laws enacted by the last Congress and safeguarding our sacred liberties will mean resisting the impulse to compromise while defending our time-tested conservative principles against the charges and countercharges our political opponents will make.
But we are trusting that the men and women we’ve sent to Washington as our representatives in the most recent housecleaning operation will be faithful to the challenges we have given them and do the right things. We are not being naive, thinking things will suddenly change in Washington without the need for voters to exercise due caution and vigilance, but we do believe salutary changes will come.
We are deeply concerned that a generation of young people has been taught that America is corrupt and our system of government is not worth saving. They have been taught this in our schools, and their heads have been filled with politically correct nonsense. The generation coming up may not even be equipped to take the reins of government when its time comes. That is why we will have to start making changes from the top down.
We used to think reform would come from the bottom up, but that is not going to happen. Changes will need to be made in the centers of power, from the administration in Washington and all the various agencies of government to the state and local levels. At the same time, we will need to lobby for reforms in both public and higher education
if we expect to see real, long-lasting change.
ACCEPTING THE CHALLENGE
We are going through difficult times in America today, but it is not the worst we have endured. The country is in the midst of an economic downturn, and most people are not living as well as they did a decade ago. Nevertheless, sometimes it takes a little stress to make people stop and think about what they’ve been doing. I believe these may turn out to be some of the best times we have ever seen if we are able to recapture a vision of who we are and what this nation was meant to be.
As a Christian minister, I tend to believe that God may have allowed these tough times to come about so that the men and women of this nation will wake up and reclaim their patrimony. We need to take a look around and remember the incredible privilege we have as Americans. The rally on the Washington Mall hosted by Glenn Beck back in August 2010 was dedicated to restoring honor, and that’s really what it’s all about. We have to rededicate ourselves to the essential virtues of honor, truth, integrity, and faithfulness if there is any hope of restoring our lost honor.
During a speech I heard Ronald Reagan deliver in the late 1980s, he said, “Never has there been a time when people with so much to lose have done so little to keep it.” I think that may have been the case in recent years, but it is not going to be the case much longer. We have lost more than enough ground, but I see the banners of a million dedicated patriots rising above the horizon, and bigger and better changes are on the way. Regardless of what happens in Washington this year or next, I believe there is hope. Throughout all the years, from the American Revolution through the Civil War and two world wars until this very day, the thing that has kept this nation going is hope, which comes from knowing who we are and whose we are. And that vision is still very much alive.
It is such an important message: yes, there is going to be a tomorrow, and we can make that tomorrow better. We have already begun to prove that by our actions at the polls. The citizens of Iowa proved it when they removed three liberal judges from the bench for ignoring the wishes of the people in order to push a far-left agenda. Voters crowding into town hall meetings all over the country are proving it by showing up and confronting unaccountable senators and congressmen. And all these changes are coming straight from the hearts of decent, hardworking Americans.
One of the tremendous things about this country is that we are a republic that can correct itself through informed citizen action without resorting to violence. President Obama made a dramatic promise of hope and change during his 2008 election campaign. That promise, along with the fact that he would become the first African American president, was apparently enough to persuade the voters to elect him to the nation’s highest office. Mr. Obama knew that we have a constitutional system that allows us to make major changes of policy. We can change direction without a violent revolution, and his administration made some of the most dramatic changes in the history of the republic. But there is also a safety net, which is the will of the people.
The Founders designed a system in which those who are elected to public office may only make major decisions with the consent of the governed. And when a government strays too far to the left or the right, the people have the right and constitutional duty to hold those elected individuals accountable. They have the power to right the ship of state through citizen action and the choices they make at the ballot box.
Those who want to make the most radical changes in our form of government, to take the country in a new and untested direction, identify themselves today as “progressives.” Underlying their platform and their belief system is the idea that there is some new territory, some golden new sunrise, or some shining utopia out there that guarantees equality and peace and plenty for all if we can just shake off the shackles of the past and strike out in a new direction. But what they are offering is not new at all: it is the oldest fabrication known to man.
The idea of a man-made utopia has been the promise of every totalitarian society since the collapse of the Roman republic. But it is a false vision, a mirage, a wisp of smoke, and we would be foolish indeed to abandon the achievements of the greatest republic in the history of mankind for a system that has been the source of some of the greatest miseries ever known. The progressive promise is in reality a hallucination.
The men and women who took control of the United States Congress in January 2009 were on a mission, and the legislation they passed is clear evidence of the direction in which they were headed. I have heard from some of our representatives in Washington that if many of the most liberal members of Congress had not been turned out by the voters in the 2010 election, the progressives were poised to go much, much further. Within a couple of years they would have been calling for a total revision of the United States Constitution. That’s how radical the aims of some of our leaders have become.
But the 2010 election was a watershed. It was in effect a firewall against further encroachments and further legislative destruction from the Left. It was a good start, but it was just a start. Those who would like to undermine our form of government, our traditional values and beliefs, and our way of life haven’t gone away. They’re just waiting for an opportunity to strike again. That’s one of the reasons why I’ve written this book, as a warning and a wake-up call to every citizen to stand up, speak up, and become engaged in the contest for America’s future.
Make no mistake; we are in a contest to see what this nation will be for the next two hundred years. Will we uphold the values of the Founders, who were dedicated to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? Will we defend the moral and ethical values our forefathers fought and died for? Or will we stand by silently, like the dazed and defeated citizens of a half-dozen fallen empires of the past, and watch this nation sink into the swamp of socialism, totalitarianism, and anarchy, ultimately leading to collapse? This is the choice we have to make, and it is one contest we can’t afford to lose.