America represents the essence of the human spirit allowed to develop to its fullest potential.
Many Americans are totally disgusted by the way things have gone in our politics recently. The Red State/Blue State duality has created a national neurosis of the first order, and instead of helping us heal our divide, commentators like Bill O'Reilly on the right and Chris Matthews on the left just seem to want to drive us into a frenzy of hate for our fellow countrymen. Indeed, Matthews often says about the political fight, "I love this stuff," with a self satisfied grin.
Duality is normal in the human psyche. Without a range of opposites to energize our lives, nothing happens. But sometimes things get pushed too far in one direction or another and healing is required. That was the case at the time of The Civil War and it is the case in America today.
The origin of our unique national neurotic disease is simple to diagnose. It was quite natural for Americans to react in a defensive way after the 9/11 attacks. While we can find reasons to hate one another politically, Americans know that there is some essence of our country that is worth fighting for together despite our differences. Though it may be difficult to define that essence, it emerged instantaneously in symbolic form. American flags flew off the shelves, and many cars drove down the road with flags flying in the hurricane force wind of our national highways.
But the wounds to our national sense of self from the 9/11 attacks were mild compared to the wounds of being taken into the Iraq War by political lies, and the crash of our economy caused by the unconscionable frauds of Wall Street investment bankers. These last two events amounted to an explosion in our American psyche, which the divisive talking heads and their venal masters have been exploiting ever since, as if they were promoting a Super Bowl game.
So how do we heal our national divide, and restore America to its greatness in the world? The movie "Apollo 13" illustrates some useful answers. When an explosion occurred aboard the spacecraft headed for the Moon, the NASA leaders were faced with the crisis of creating a new attitude. Instead of putting two more men on the Moon, they had to come up with a new mission--how to get the Apollo 13 crew back to Earth safely. Our national task, if we will save the best of America, is just like that. We cannot continue with the America we all love without envisioning something new.
"What do we have on the ship that is good?" That was the question Mission Director Gene Kranz (Ed Harris) asked of his fellow flight controllers after the explosion aboard Apollo 13. Like Kranz, we must ask ourselves, "What do we have in America that is good?" What is the essence of America for which we would all fight, regardless of whether we paint our faces red or blue; regardless of our race, our gender, our religion, our national origin or the size of our bank account?
The immortal scene of finding a way to put a square filter into a round hole aboard Apollo 13 sums up the difficulty we face in finding that American essence.
But Americans have never shrunk from adversity. All of us are here because we or our ancestors saw something good in America. Even if we were born here after many generations, our lives have been blessed and infused with that fundamental essence. Like the engineers who saved the Apollo 13 astronauts, we have the can-do spirit that can heal our national neurosis.
It's quite clear that we need to envision our leaders as healers rather than dividers. Once we do that, we will find that something new which defines the essence of America once again. No, we will not be as innocent in our views as we were before 9/11, but we will be able to enjoy our new level of maturity, which will allow the America we love to continue to emerge as the essence of the human spirit allowed to develop to its fullest potential.
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