January 12, 2011
American Society and Character in the 21st CenturyBy Steve McCann
Over the past 65 years, devoid of any meaningful national misfortune, the American social order has undergone a major transformation. The country now finds itself polarized and its discourse full of vitriol, with many looking to exploit national tragedies such as the recent occurrence in Tucson as a means to retain or expropriate power. Yet this current manifestation of the American character, so different from that of the past, must now cope with and find a solution to the very real threat of economic and societal upheaval looming over the horizon.
Historically, societies tend to stratify themselves along economic or preordained class lines. The United States has long prided itself on the belief that class distinctions were no longer a part of a unique American culture. However, the present social structure has evolved into a three-tier social order directly traceable to the unprecedented prosperity of the past six decades.
This structure is predominantly influenced not by wealth, but by education and occupation. The uppermost level of society, often referred to as the "elites" or "the ruling" and/or "the governing class," sits astride the social order. The citizens who provide the primary labor and resources for the economic engine of the country make up the second tier. The third comprises those who have been betrayed by a self-serving education system and are conditioned to be totally dependent on government.
Unlike any other period in the nation's history, one stratum of society, the American elites of the past half-century, have by their control of education, entertainment, the media, and politics totally dominated and overwhelmingly and negatively influenced the culture and national character. These elites are chiefly responsible for what the national character is today.
This American aristocracy is now entirely made up of those who have no recall or firsthand experience of the years of adversity prior to 1940. Their entire point of reference is never-ending affluence and the pursuit of pleasure within an overall framework of world peace. Yet this assemblage is dominated by comparatively few committed ideologues and so-called intellectuals, who are dedicated to permanently altering the American culture. In defiance of their initial small number, these individuals have been very successful in attracting many others by appealing to their vanity and avarice.
Thus, entrance into this class is not entirely a factor of birth or wealth, but rather that of developing a mindset of superiority reminiscent of the evolution of cliques within a high school setting. This attitude is further reinforced and promoted in the incubator that is the college campus, wherein this mindset is further enhanced by the academic elites waxing eloquent about the failings of the United States and the ideal of a classless society led, of course, by the preeminent class...themselves and their naïve recruits.
Once having left the bubble that is the university environment, the majority of these same recruits, still influenced by their university experience and desirous of maintaining their standing within the circle, look to the anointed leaders in the mainstream media, the entertainment industry, and politics to set the agenda and dialog. Further, by being an accepted member of this class, it is far easier to be ushered by the gatekeepers onto the path of making a substantial living, be it in government, in academia, on Wall Street, in the media, or in a myriad of nonprofit advocacy groups.
Therefore it becomes paramount for new acolytes to retain membership within the congregation and do the leaders' bidding rather than question what the pronouncements and policies of their titular leaders would do to the culture and well-being of the country at large. Thus, though these tyros proclaim to be independent thinkers, no faction in American society is more acquiescent to groupthink and conformity.
The reality is that the majority of those in the ruling class are mind-numbed eternal adolescents, hell-bent on pushing the boundaries of ethical and moral behavior and viewing all political and policy issues as a war between their side and their opponents'. While there are a few comparatively independent thinkers within the group who do question the overreaching of a powerful central government, their opposition is muted and limited to a more gradualist approach as their concession to remain within the fold.
An all-powerful central government is vital to maintaining the elites' power, income base, and preeminent class status, and this government must be protected at all costs. In order to retain their supremacy, the tactics of outright lies, innuendos, character assassinations, and exploitation of national tragedies to impugn their adversaries are utilized by the foot soldiers in the mainstream media, the political establishment, and the entertainment industry. The most recent example of this strategy was the public reaction to the shooting of Representative Giffords and other innocent victims by a deranged man. Almost immediately, and before any facts were known, the elites and their subjects blamed their ideological foes and called for a curtailment of free speech.
This end-justifies-the-means mentality abets the creation of an overall society devoid of trust, honor, and integrity and a national dialog full of vitriol and animosity.
The current dilemma the United States finds itself in is directly traceable to today's governing class and their irresponsible behavior, philosophy, and assumption of never-ending prosperity. The rest of society, while also benefiting from the overwhelming economic growth and absence of national adversity over the past half-century, consciously chose to ignore what was happening to the culture and future well-being of the country.
The dependent class, solely for their voting loyalty, have been bought off with government largess. The producer class were content to live their lives in isolation and naïveté as long as the growth in prosperity appeared to be endless and entertainment was easily available. Together they allowed an elite class to develop that has not only left the country staring into an abyss, but also has no idea of how to save the nation from disaster. The privileged lives they have led, their ideology and self-centeredness, have not equipped them to manage a country of this magnitude to successfully weather the upcoming storm and avoid a destructive economic and societal upheaval replete with potential violence. As befits a spoiled child, the elites are capable only of desperately clinging to power.
The American character -- once epitomized by a fearless can-do attitude, confidence in the future, honor, and self-reliance, as well as a firm belief in American exceptionalism -- is being replaced by indecision, selfishness, a lack of integrity, acquiescence to an overreaching government, and a foolish repentance for the nation's historic successes.
However, there still beats deep within the heart of the American society the attributes that made the United States the greatest country in the history of mankind, and it is to those citizens that the nation must turn.
The responsibility to rescue the United States now rests with the producers, or the second tier of our current society, and with them alone. As the recent Tea Party movement revealed, albeit on an embryonic basis, the people are motivated and can restore some sanity to the political process. But that is only a first step. While more Americans are waking up, the majority have not. The unvarnished reality as to the future and the need for extensive citizen involvement must be made clear to all. A national leader and a Congress firmly rooted in the ideals and history of the country must emerge who can tell the truth regarding the nation's prospects, offer a viable solution and rally all segments of society to equally sacrifice for the overall good.
The current ruling class, who will not willingly exit the stage, must be replaced through the political process with a new ruling class whose underpinning is the American character as envisioned and reflected by the founders of the country. If not, then the past 65 years of unprecedented peace and prosperity will be the high water mark in the history of the United States.