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April 3, 2022

The American Dream and Our National Identity Crisis

I hate to write about yet another crisis. Our media and their government supporters love to create crisis to keep our eyes off the real issues that plague this great nation. Case in point: we were recently enamored with the “slap heard ‘round the world” on an awards show that no one watches. Almost a week later, and many are still reflecting, reviewing, and analyzing the “slap”.   Meanwhile we are living in a country that has an identity crisis. By that I mean that more and more, we are identifying as every and anything other than Americans.

Much of what I plan to share are my own thoughts, supported by the ideas of accomplished American citizens, authors and activists. They are, Jim Fini, author of “Locally Grown: The Art of Sustainable Government”, Marybeth P. Ulrich, PhD, Air Force Academy class of 1984 graduate, a distinguished visiting professor at the United States Air Force Academy and author of “The USAF at 75: Renewing our Democratic Ethos” an article published in AEther: A Journal of Strategic Airpower & Spacepower, and Vivek Ramaswamy, author of “Woke, Inc.” Each of these citizens uniquely point out that our nation has an identity crisis, and they provide what I believe are long overdue solutions to this issue.


Who are we? Or better yet, from the lyrics of The Who, “Who are you?” If you live in this great nation, I know what your answer should be to that question.

What do you believe? Again, as a person living in this great country, I know what you should believe, but do you?

Why do you believe what you believe? I have said before that just like any family, our American family has a history that is full of blemishes. Nothing about our history speaks to perfection. However, if you believe the ideals found in the documents written by our founding fathers then you know and understand why you believe this is the greatest nation on the face of the earth, and why you are willing to defend the American dream.


We are divided as a nation, and this is the way most in government and the mainstream media want us to be. We fail to understand that we are a nation of individuals, with different histories, cultures, and religious beliefs, but at the end of the day we must be Americans first. If we are not, the division we feel now will grow to a place where it will appear that reuniting will be an impossibility, and with that, we will watch the demise of the greatest nation in the world.


The simplest way to describe/define E Pluribus Unum- which is the idea that from many, we Americans become one, is with a sports analogy. If you know anything about me, you know my favorite football team is the Denver Broncos. This team just like any team in the National Football League (NFL), is trying to get to the Super Bowl. To accomplish this goal, they attempt to legally acquire the best players. When the players get together, they work as a team, a single unit. There are different cohorts within the team. You have linemen, wide receivers, running backs and most important, the quarterbacks. A similar group form the defensive side of the team. They come together as a team; one group melding into the offensive group and the other, the defensive group. In 2022, race, religion or political beliefs do not play a role in whether you can be a part of this team. There is one goal, and if everyone is working toward that goal, as Denver Broncos, we are happy to have you on this team.

The Broncos just acquired a new quarterback, who in Super Bowl XLVIII played a major role in dismantling the Denver Broncos.

Now he is a Denver Bronco, and his mission, desire and goals line up with ours. So, no matter his history, what team he came from and what he did to us in a previous Super Bowl, as a team, we welcome him with open arms. He will assimilate into to the culture of the Broncos. He will learn the history of the Broncos and he will be a part of creating a winning culture for the Broncos, because he will identify as a Denver Bronco.


Just like the Denver Broncos, we are a nation of diverse people with diverse ideas. We don’t need to have everything in common with one another. Diversity gets watered down if we do not include diversity of thought in what we are looking for. If at our core we don’t know who we are then our nation is lost. Just like every member of the Denver Broncos identifies as a Denver Bronco, so we, as citizens of America, must identify as Americans.

Unfortunately, we are now dealing with people who identify more with their cohort than they do with being an American. We are African- American, Native-American, Italian American. We are men, women, transgender, gay, or queer. We are republican, democrat, or libertarian. We are he/him or they/them. We are more concerned about what your sexual preference is and what you identify as, never hearing you say you identify as an American.

The other day on a program on CNBC, a democratic politician voiced that he did not support a proposal put forth by the democratic party. The host of the program suggested he leave the Democratic party and join the Republicans since he felt the same way republicans feel about this new proposal. This is not the correct answer and is part of the issue. Not every policy or idea put forth by either party is good for America. Once we understand that, our government will start to function the way it was meant to. The politician believed that the policy was not right for America. In expressing his position, he demonstrated that he identifies as an American first.   


I identify as an American Christian black man with conservative values. In my opinion, being an American affords me the freedom to practice my Christian faith. Black is the color of my skin and something you discover when you meet me in person. I identify as a man because unlike some, I can provide you with the definition of the word man. It is biology, but a degree in biology is not required to define man. My conservative values come from the values instilled in me through my faith and my parents.


I believe this country was founded on a set of ideals and principles that provide everyone who identifies as an American, the opportunity to become whatever they want to become. Will it be easy, No. Will it require hard work? Absolutely. Will you fail? Probably more than once, but then it’s up to you to get up and continue to push forward and pursue your goals.  More than likely no one is going to give you whatever it is you want and more than likely, no one owes you anything.


Where do these beliefs come from or why do we believe what we believe?  They come from those documents that outline our rights and how this country should function, the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. I believe that even when these documents were written, and all men were not treated equally, the heart felt desire was that someday, because of these documents, all men would be treated equally. I believe the men who wrote these words, even when all men did not feel endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that their heart felt desire was that someday, because of these documents, all men would be able to enjoy life, liberty, and their pursuit of happiness.


I think about these words, and I think about those who hate these words and these documents. I think about some who think they could rewrite the Constitution with a few Twitter posts, because according to them, our Constitution is “trash”. Then I think about the Tuskegee Airmen and the men who, despite discrimination at home and in the armed forces, still wanted to join the military to fly fight and win. WASP, (Women Airforce Service Pilots) went through the same thing. Why? I believe they understood the American dream. I think somewhere along the line they learned about what it took to make and keep this nation great. In her article, Dr. Ulrich states, that the essential pillars of democracy include respect for the rule of law; reverence for the Constitution; intolerance for “any violation of the Constitution or its process” and for members of the military, an internalization of their subordination to civil authority as the foundation of military professionalism. These are the pillars that support the ideal of an American soldier. They are also the pillars for the citizens of this country.  We must work every day to facilitate a deeper understanding of how America works and why it is worth fighting for if we are going to preserve this democracy.  


Mr. Ramaswamy states, “America is the first and greatest country defined exclusively, because of a set of ideas, enshrined under a single Constitution. America wasn’t just a place. It was a vision of what a place could be.”  Therefore, these men and women were willing to go to war for a nation that was not inclusive of them and their worth. They saw the vision of what America could become for them, and if not for them, for their children, their grandchildren, and their great-grandchildren. They believed in the idea of what America could be. They had what we have lost. In the words of Dr. Ulrich, “The guarantee of that service is internalization in every officer of the expectations embodied in the commission and the oath: patriotism, valor, fidelity and abilities; dedication to the protection of the letter of and values embodied in the Constitution; and a willingness to offer, if required, what President Lincoln called “the last full measure of devotion’ in its defense.” Even though these words primarily apply to the expectations of our military members, the spirit of these words should be instilled in every citizen since our military is made up of citizens.


As Americans, we must embrace the spirit of the Tuskegee Airmen, believing that we must be willing to fight for and defend this country and its principles even when it feels the values and principles, we are defending, do not favor us. It can’t be said enough, America isn’t a place, it’s an idea. It’s a dream we all want to come true for every citizen. It’s a vison or goal we aspire to. The Tuskegee Airmen and others fought for the American dream. It’s time we start identifying as Americans and fight for America and the American dream.  


So how do we fight for this dream, this idea called America? Some believe the answer to be very simple and I tend to agree with them. Jim Fini always says, he would be willing to pay higher taxes if every able-bodied high school graduate, did a stint in the military. This would help the youth of today gain an understanding of what this country is made of and what many of us have sworn to defend. Ramaswamy believes, mandatory service would help establish a shared national identity. I agree with Fini’s idea, but I would add to it what Ramaswamy proposes and that is to also emphasize a non-military nature of mandatory national service. In addition to making national service something high school graduates become a part of, Ramaswamy proposes that high school students serve the nation each year during a portion of their summer break. The point in these proposals is to provide our young Americans, with an understanding of service before self and America first. It could potentially allow students with different backgrounds, histories, and races to work together in making and keeping America great.


If we are going to get students to engage in volunteer work, mentally and physically over the summer months; that help them understand what America is about; if we want to reap the benefits of young men and women serving honorably in our military for 2-4 years, we must start teaching them about America in school again. According to the article by Dr. Ulrich, studies show that the American education system is not producing such citizens. She goes on to say a 2020 national survey done by the American Public Policy Center, found a quarter of Americans cannot name a single branch of government, and only 51 percent could name all three branches. There is a national decline in civics education. Civics in our education system has eroded to the point where it gets less than 10 percent of classroom time. Our future citizens will not “support and defend” our Constitution, the American way of life, or the American dream if they do not know what they are defending. Why would you support and defend something you don’t know anything about?


This makes the why the most important part of getting every citizen to identify as Americans.


It's not too late, but there are times when it feels like it is. We are now being pushed to accept the next new cohort, transgenders. The push is strong and relentless. That same effort, starting at the local level, needs to be made so every citizen identifies as Americans.  We must know who we are, what we believe and why. If we don’t, then documents like to Constitution and the Declaration of Independences will become disposable and America will become an unrecognizable country. We will be made up of individual who are not willing to put our differences aside to protect this nation and the freedoms it provides.  We will remain victims and always focus on the negative aspects of our history. We will continue to blame someone else for our inability to succeed and as a nation, we will die a slow and unnecessary death.

When we behave and identify as Americans, we understand that our mission is for the success of America, and the dream that is America. Again, like any team, there will be disagreements, changes in leadership, social unrest, and difficult time. We must never quit on the team, and no matter what, we must remain team America, fighting every day to keep the American dream alive, if not for ourselves, for the generations that will come after us.


We must embody the spirit of the Tuskegee Airmen, who I believe wanted to fight for a country that had not accepted them as Americans. Yet the Tuskegee Airmen and the WASP, because they believed in the idea, the concept of what is the American dream; not a place but an idea and a vision they loved.