In Search of a National Identity

A majority of Americans are asking themselves – what in the world is going on with American politics? Following the last Republican Presidential debate in South Carolina, the debate on the issues appears to many to have devolved into name-calling and character assassination. Such a gladiator arena where there are no rules, just the purpose of survivability, serious answers to critical problems are not proffered. On the Democratic side, an avowed socialist is surging, even though the implementation of such socialistic policies would change the very fabric of American society and our way of life. So what’s going on?

A measurable percent of the American electorate has come to the conclusion that business as usual has not, and will not work. They represent a segment of the voting bloc, on both the right and left, that is determined to seek new leadership outside of the traditional criteria. On the right, is Donald Trump, a never-elected business leader who is not beholden to any special interest group with any vested interest in Congress. On the left is Bernie Sanders, an anti-establishment socialist so far to the left of mainstream that he can’t be corrupted by groups dependent upon current government structure (big banks).

No matter what is said pejoratively about Mr. Trump or Mr. Sanders, outsider status is a more important characteristic that overrides and supersedes any other logical analysis. It doesn’t matter that Bernie Sanders’ policies of dismantling and restructuring the American banking system will result in the destruction of small and family owned businesses. It doesn’t matter that Donald Trump breaks every rule of political correctness without rendering specific policy proposals, simply being untraditional is enough qualification for President of the United States. In the latest CNN poll, Don Trump leads Senator Cruz 38-22%. One reason given for Trump support is that he’s the one most likely to change Washington.

One result of partisan politics is the circumstance of candidates seeking a strategic lane. For Republicans, there is the conservative lane, the evangelical lane, the Tea Party Libertarian lane, and the proverbial establishment lane. For the Democrats, there is the progressive lane, the liberal lane, the government services lane, the environmental lane, and the entitlement lane. Candidates run in these lanes and on these labels hoping to garner enough votes to cause another lane to fold in behind them until they are the last person standing for their party’s nomination. What we are now experiencing are the candidates from the outside lane. This outside lane is like the HOV (high occupancy vehicle) lane on the interstate highway. It is not restricted by the traffic obstacles of political correctness or traditional policy pronouncements, no matter how outrageous they appear to be initially.

In the 1770s during the period leading up to the American Revolutionary War, colonists were reminiscent of today’s citizens’ anger. They felt underserved, oppressed, and betrayed by their ruling government. Their leaders of the day, our Founding Fathers, determined that a new structure of government representation was required if America was to prosper. The ruling elites of the British government of the day were insensitive and unresponsive to the people’s demands for remedy. A declaration of independence was the only option. “Don’t Tread on Me” was a flag of defiance and independence.

The nomenclature of society was complicated. There were gentry, landowners, merchants, workers, indentured servants, and slaves. Each had a different issue and goal in their quest for freedom.  What then united them in a single purpose? King George was the enemy. He would never change business as usual. The manifestation of freedom to each strata of society was that birth would not be destiny in America, and choices in life as to employment, trade, education, and family values would not be dictated by a government bureaucrat. In other words, the establishment of freedom for the pursuit of happiness as each individual so determined opportunity, would not be encumbered. The King never saw the outside lane coming.

What is missing from then to now? A common purpose in principle establishing an American identity. There is no common universal bondage that an egalitarian theme alleviates.

The King George today to many is the federal government in Washington, DC. The lanes of the political candidates represent specific cultural characteristics of America. There is no overriding theme of principle on which we stand to unite the lanes. In 1776, established cultural lanes merged into the outside lane. Today, they remain ununited. There is no overriding, binding principle. What is a uniting principle? Something that we want not just for ourselves, but for everyone in equality. In 1776, escaping from the ruling class was a common objective benefitting all peoples.

What is lacking in America today is a creed, a statement of purpose, and a goal for our children that unites us in principle. The task to course correct may be more difficult in that our King George is our own government that we have allowed to foster unsustainable policies. But, as in 1776, the answers are in the people’s hands. What is required is leadership – leadership that recognizes the importance of the individuals driving in every lane, but also provides the continuity of principled leadership for a common destination.

Bernie Sanders is errant in demanding a litmus test for the nomination of a Supreme Court Justice to fill the vacancy left by the tragic death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Sanders’ test that a nominee must declare, in advance, that he or she will work to overturn Citizens United (the Supreme Court case that allows unlimited political contributions) is nothing more than making the Supreme Court an augment to the legislative branch. The Supreme Court is not a legislative body that writes and passes laws. The Court’s purpose, as one of the three branches of government, is to pass judgment on the constitutionality of laws based on the U.S. Constitution. No branch of government may restrict unalienable rights if they are true to their purpose. Justice Scalia believed in the doctrine of original intent. This was not the intent of ruling political issues, but the drafters’ intent on ruling eternal principles. These principles were never to be abridged, violated, or infringed upon by the government. The rights that emanated from these principles were unalienable and therefore never to be negotiated. What would be a fair question to ask a potential nominee is – does he or she believe, as the Founding Fathers, that unalienable rights are endowed by a Creator? Or does he or she believe that they originate through natural law? Natural law is whatever man says it is, at the time, place and circumstances that man determines it. If it is changing, it is not unalienable.

Part and parcel to forging a consensus of national identity requires that every citizen feels empowered by the principle, and is accepted by their fellow Americans, society, and their leadership as valuable components of America culture. Ronald Reagan built such a consensus in America in the acceptance of a symbolic Big Tent. He believed that limited government and freedom allowed all Americans to prosper. One could walk into his political tent with other people from other lanes, but feel included in the overall designs for the future of America. When people walked out of the tent, they maintained their personal identity, they still walked in their lane without being blended, diluted in principle, or compromised in political purpose. They were Americans.

The world desperately needs America to find its identity and project opportunity and security as the last great harbor of societal freedom on earth. It begins with each and every citizen determining what principles they want protected, not just for themselves, but for their fellow Americans. It proceeds with a leader grasping the requisite moral compass and showing us the way.

My name is Marc Nuttle and this is what I believe.

What do you believe?