Recovering America

This free-falling into a new America is becoming increasingly unlivable.  For anyone over a certain age, this America, this culture, and this society have become beyond foreign.  It is not the country we grew up in, and it is not the country we want to die in.  It is alien.  The obsession over hyper-individualism is turning surreal.  But then, is it not inevitable?  Are these not the seeds planted of our own destruction?  There is a reason our Founding Fathers agonized about what would happen with freedom in a society without virtue.

So where do we go and what will we become?

The country is still out there, that America that we remember, the one that was proud and strong but also assured, humble — the one that embodied a quiet patriotism that didn't need boasting and the over-the-top half-time shows and fly-bys and millions in ad spends.  We rightly hesitated at the thought of Empire, of marching off to endless wars.  Our love of nation just was, it was in our blood, in our quiet demeanor.  We knew who we were.

My thoughts wander off to driving through Wisconsin farmland, the rolling hills and bluffs, the rivers and woods, the nestled burgs, the tall corn and wheat, dairy farms and hollows, the rising wind and late summer chills, the dry harvest and burning leaves, the weather turns and cold chills.  I reminisce on the hearty and sturdy stock who tend those fields, assured and solid, as old as the centuries of our past, from first to come ashore across the colonies in all their glory.

How long before the road closes before me, the long last ride, the final push across valley clear, the river crossed mightily and fallen back in mirror gone, into the receding fog of our past?  How long before our final look past, the fading hills and trees rise down into our forgotten history?

How do we recover what has been lost, or is that a fool's errand?  For time in its continuum races forward; the need, the urge and desire to pull it back to retreat, is nothing but a dream turned into a saddening nostalgia, bitter torn and tears and lost remembrances.

Beware of old photos.  They are just a snapshot, made to fool us into a false sense of what was.  I glance at two old photos, one of Van Nuys Boulevard and another of a shopping area in Panorama City, both parts of the San Fernando Valley, in the city of Los Angeles.  The photos are over a half-century old.  They speak of a long-ago part of America, one idyllic, flawed, maybe, but simple, a different time and era, but they speak of something. 

Again, that nostalgia, it can fool us, but drive down those streets today, Van Nuys or Roscoe Boulevard.  One sees, in block after block, a cesspool of drugs, graffiti, homeless encampments, boarded up stores, and rampant crime. 

Homeless in Van Nuys (YouTube screen grab cropped).

It speaks of thousands of streets and towns across this country, the fallen, the despair, the hopelessness.  Do we not care?  Does it not mean anything to see America turn into a third-world country?

Wild thrushes glide backwards, falling into the wind, cold snap, whipping fast to tears rolling — and then the ice on sheathed skin, bare and bracing against the coming night.  The things those eyes have seen, the cries and lost greatness, the sad turning downward as all that was once held true and right has been torn and ripped and attacked as ghosts of an evil past.  What had built this nation into a City on the Hill and beacon is now ridiculed as nothing, nothing but a graveyard wavering on the guilty carcass of a cancerous beginning and the Founders' dreams that we are now taught are nothing but nightmares.

Gaze at a Thomas Cole painting, listen to a Samuel Barber composition, walk along the wide Missouri River, get lost in the poems of Walt Whitman, study the life of George Washington, stand in the fields at Antietam, recite Abraham Lincoln's Second Inaugural, and don't dare apologize for any of it.  Not a thing, not a darn minute of our history needs to be sullied like what the haters of our great nation are doing today.

I see myself in my aging years seeing this America race by, sitting on a porch, wondering how we let it all go.  Again, maybe it was all inevitable.  Too many forces against us — globalization and greed allowed for the destruction of the American heartland and industrial base.  Our love and embrace of radical individualism, once the source of such greatness in the building of the American spirit, have run rampant.  The community and family are dissolving, the churches are emptying, we "identify" as whatever or whomever we please.  We celebrate our own destruction.

The leaves fall gently, golds and reds and vibrant colors downward settle as the sun recedes in the west, the eastern sky turns dark, and evening comes on, in all its quietness and relief of a long autumn day, the last days of Indian Summer fall backwards, into a past that yearns and pulls at my heart. 

I become that old man, that character from a Wendell Berry novel in Port William that looks past and beyond, gazing downward for the longest time, lamenting what has been lost. 

And praying for the coming generations, that they may recover that which was our greatness.

Michael Finch is the president of the David Horowitz Freedom Center.  His new book of poetry is Wanderings in Place.

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