Civil Society Starts with Us: America Is Only as Great as Her Americans

Richard Kelsey | October 19, 2016 | 2:16pm EDT
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(AP Photo)

It is the silly season of presidential politics.  In this special time, parties, candidates, pundits, and our crazy uncles all show up to tell us how government can solve our problems.  Actually, few tell us how to solve the problems; they simply tell us who is responsible for “America’s problems.”   People make great money and gain political power in the blame game while politicians make slogans and promises.  They demand party loyalty, all in the name of what is good for our country.  I am not here to sell you on a political party or campaign.  I am a partisan for America, which makes me a partisan for Americans … all of them.   I will let the political profiteers tell you about red and blue states.  My focus is on all the people in the Red, White, and Blue states.

If we want to make America stronger together, or make America great again, we need to make great Americans again.  Government does not make Americans great.  Great Americans make for a better government.  Great Americans are made at home, by loving parents, in stable, educated, families.  Sure, great and wonderful people emerge from and overcome difficult family lives every day.  They are the exception.  The single greatest privilege in society today is not one’s color or economic status; it is the strength, love, commitment, and character of one’s family, friends, and neighbors.  Neither government nor political parties play a role in that.

As American society devolves morally, eschewing faith, marriage, family, personal responsibility, civil discourse, and community service, our problems mount.  Attacks on the civil society, to include assassination of police and bashing of law enforcement happen in a society and culture that is hedonistic, hateful, racist, illiterate, and entitled.   People do not assassinate police in Ashburn, Virginia or riot in Rumson, New Jersey.  Those communities are not immune from disorder because of their residents’ colors, religions or ethnicities.  Those places are stable because the populations there represent great majorities of loving, educated families committed to their kids and communities. Innumerable such towns exist across this country.

I have jokingly called this the Kardashian election.  It is an election where a prurient population rewards outrageous acts and behavior as it chooses between a slate of unfit and unworthy candidates.  Reality shows are popular because they are reality, and our reality is increasingly debased.  Fatherless and single family households are on the rise across every demographic.  Broken families are an epidemic in some communities for decades.  Heroin use is exploding.  Courting is swiping the right direction and hooking up.  We abort our children, abandon our marriages, mock our churches, live off our neighbors, and then lie about our great lives on social media.   We wonder then aloud, collectively, like a group of stoners, “what the hell happened to America, man?”  We happened.  We stink at this liberty stuff.

Liberty and freedom aren't synonymous with anarchy and debauchery.  Likewise, living in a government of the people based on liberty does not represent a right to live free of judgment, accountability, failure, and yes, scorn.  When a community no longer has standards, it is not a community, but a collection of self-centered individuals invested solely in themselves.  That does not make a country great.  

We may vote for or against any candidate in any election.  Indeed, while most claim they vote for candidates on issues, the research shows that overwhelmingly, Americans vote consistent with a political party with whom they primarily identify … even the so-called independents.  The party system is one about which George Washington warned us.  He feared a system where people would be more invested in party than country.  The father of our country had wisdom far beyond his era.

I am not going to urge you to vote for anyone or even participate in this election.  Frankly, and unapologetically, I do not think some people should vote.  The uninformed and misinformed help Americans best by not voting, though I would die for their right to cast a ballot.  I can only tell you this, our current political mess and the dearth of fit and decent candidates is not from a system foisted upon us; it is from a system that reflects our values.  If the candidates are unworthy, it is not because America has produced unworthy candidates, rather, Americans have.  If we want to reclaim out country, it will not be done in yet another make or break, “if my team doesn’t win the republic will fall” election.  We need to reclaim our country at home.  We need decency, committed, loving marriages, education, public service, and a return to a civil society where in the name of civility, we shun the uncivil amongst us.  That is a project that will be decades in the making, and it starts with each American doing his or her part to make Americans great again.

America has serious, significant, and important policy decisions and choices to make that will shape how we govern ourselves and interact with the world.  No one denies that.  However, the greatness of America is less dependent on legislation than it is on civilization.  The civil society starts with us.  Make no mistake, no matter your party, color, creed or economic circumstance, America is and has only been as great as her Americans.

Richard Kelsey is an attorney practicing with The Impresa Legal Group. A former Assistant Law School Dean and a former Virginia state court law clerk and commercial litigator, Kelsey was also the CEO of a technology company.  He has previously taught legal writing and pre-trial practice.  He is a regular commentator on legal and political issues in print, and on radio and TV.   His opinions are his own, and do not represent any institution or entity.


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