Curtis Dahlgren
Re "" (part 3)
By Curtis Dahlgren
August 5, 2009

"Are we doing a good enough job teaching our children what America is and what she represents in the long history of the world? Younger parents aren't sure that an unambivalent appreciation of America is the right thing to teach modern children. And for those who create the popular culture, well-grounded patriotism is no longer in style . . We've got to do a better job getting across that America is Freedom — freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of enterprise. And freedom is special and rare." — President Reagan (farewell from the oval office, 1989)

IT'S NO LONGER JUST THE RELIGIOUS WHO ARE TALKING ABOUT AMERICA'S DECAY. A future historian writing "The Decline and Fall of the United States" would do well to check out a new book, "AFTER AMERICA; Narratives for the next global age" (by Paul Starobin; Viking Penguin 2009). Here are just a few excerpts:

"America's traditional claim to being exceptional . . as better than others in terms of 'progress' and 'the good life,' as America herself measures these signposts of modernity, is foundering. America can no longer claim to be the dominant pacesetter civilization — the standard setter of the benchmarks of excellence . . — part of what it meant to be 'the powerhouse from which the ideals spread throughout the world,' as Henry Luce called the America of the 1940s.

"In the decades following the Second World War, European scientists felt a . . need to burnish their careers and broaden their minds with a stint at a place in the United States like Harvard or Berkeley. Those times have passed . . .

"America's pacesetting role as an [ideal] society began to come to an end in the mid-1970s. Since that time, income inequality has been widening for a number of reasons, not least the failure to supply all its citizens with a first-class education, starting in primary school . . . Should these trends continue, 'Old America' could supplant 'Old Europe' as a breeder of the envies and resentments that inevitably are nourished by growing income inequality . . [and] For all the excitement over the candidacy of Barack Obama, turnout [in the 08 election] at 61.6 percent, only slightly exceeded the share in 2004."


"It may be that America, as a function of its age, success, or sheer size, is moving into a postfrontier stage of its development. To the extent that frontiers are explored, they may be largely personal ones as self-empowered individuals haul metaphysical Conestogas to their own personal vistas.

"The absense of a muscular frontier project suggests a more subjective barometer of America's middling status. Let's call this the risk-tolerance quotient. I don't have in mind a tolerance for financial risk — America remains, as it has from the very beginning, an entrapreneurial civilization in which great numbers of talented people are willing to risk losing their shirts in pursuit of a business proposition that could yield a pot of gold.

[Note: this was written late in 2008 or early in 2009, so that spirit may be going south, but Starobin goes on to say] -

"I'm thinking specifically of risk to life and limb . . The society, especially at the elite level, has become a cosseted Nanny State. No household device is considered free of the need for a warning sticker; no suburban child is ever to be let outdoors on a bicycle, even a three wheeler, without protective headgear . . .

"Perhaps the explanation for this state of affairs is simply modern America's penchant for tort lawsuits; perhaps it has more to do with a condition of affluence and the development of a postindustrial society that has atrophied America's blue-collar working class. An elementary school in an upper-middle class area of northern Virginia . . [banished] tag [as too aggressive] . . yet this coddling approach has the support of a professional class of educational experts whose finding often seem to trump parental sentiments . . .

"The pioneer society . . is forever gone . . But a civilization that invests too much in risk avoidance can expect to be challenged by scrappier one . . [and our] reversal of optimism roles [as compared with other nations] is surely not a temporary phenomenon . . ."

[End of excerpts.]

Paul Starobin is a quite well-balanced journalist, and he's neither cheering America's demise — as some people are — nor mourning it as much as I do. As writers, he and I are looking at the same coin — but different views of the same coin. We may be coming from the same page, but not necessarily the same book!

Starobin speculates that some people would be quite happy to see this nation ("After America") become another version of Canada or Australia, but I don't want to see us become French Canadiens. Starobin's chief concern seems to be the slowing of "social progress," while my focus is on the more obvious fact that our educational and moral standards have been slammed into reverse. And as recorded history goes, there are consequences, and when great nations fall, they don't generally go down gracefully.

Although he mentions poor quality primary education as the first cause of our decline, he glosses over it a bit. It all starts with education. Starobin's dedication page contains those three little words: "Seek Truth Always."

Those words glaringly differ from pop culture's goal of pleasure, and government's goal of so-called "equality."

Martin Luther King, Jr.'s goal was education with high academic expectations and character (the main thing by which people were to be judged, ideally).


Charles Dickens' Tiny Tim today would probably say, "God help us every one. And save us from wise Latinas and/or any other wise guys."

Today's college freshmen were born in the same year William Jefferson Blythe Clinton was inaugurated. They were eight when he left office, so what would they know about sudden reversals of a nation's culture or politics? President Obama's hypnotic gaze and soothing voice may be giving them serious misconceptions about the inevitability of his "wave of the future."

Life is full of many paradoxes, I say — some outcomes that "eventuate" often seem inexplicable to many people (though they were probably predicted by many of us geezers who have been around the block a few times.

I'm in my seventh decade and in just 4 years, I'll be starting my eight decade. I started to write regularly in this 7th decade of life, and I consider it a dramatic thing to have found RenewAmerica. I'm so grateful that I'm not a lonely voice crying in the woods (and not "heard" by anyone). is neither doom-and-gloom nor pie-in-the-sky. The first step in "change" is to see the status quo through clear lenses. Then the second most important thing is — don't despair and lose "HOPE."

P.S. I saw a sign on a church today that said:

"Prayer is spiritual defiance of what is."

More to come, but until then, your homework assignment is to think on THAT! And pray like there's no tomorrow!

© Curtis Dahlgren


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
(See RenewAmerica's publishing standards.)

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Curtis Dahlgren

Curtis Dahlgren is semi-retired in southern Wisconsin, and is the author of "Massey-Harris 101." His career has had some rough similarities to one of his favorite writers, Ferrar Fenton... (more)


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