What Still Unites Us?
Decades ago, a debate over what kind of nation America is roiled the conservative movement.
Neocons claimed America was an "ideological nation" a "creedal nation," dedicated to the proposition that "all men are created equal."
Expropriating the biblical mandate, "Go forth and teach all nations!" they divinized democracy and made the conversion of mankind to the democratic faith their mission here on earth.
With his global crusade for democracy, George W. Bush bought into all this. Result: Ashes in our mouths and a series of foreign policy disasters, beginning with Afghanistan and Iraq.
Behind the Trumpian slogan "America First" lay a conviction that, with the Cold War over and the real ideological nation, the USSR, shattered into pieces along ethnic lines, it was time for America to come home.
Contra the neocons, traditionalists argued that, while America was uniquely great, the nation was united by faith, culture, language, history, heroes, holidays, mores, manners, customs and traditions. A common feature of Americans, black and white, was pride in belonging to a people that had achieved so much.
The insight attributed to Alexis de Tocqueville -- "America is great because she is good, and if America ceases to be good, she will cease to be great" -- was a belief shared by almost all.
What makes our future appear problematic is that what once united us now divides us. While Presidents Wilson and Truman declared us to be a "Christian nation," Christianity has been purged from our public life and sheds believers every decade. Atheism and agnosticism are growing rapidly, especially among the young.
Traditional morality, grounded in Christianity, is being discarded. Half of all marriages end in divorce. Four-in-10 children are born out of wedlock. Unrestricted abortion and same-sex marriage -- once regarded as marks of decadence and decline -- are now seen as human rights and the hallmarks of social progress.
Tens of millions of us do not speak English. Where most of our music used to be classic, popular, country and western, and jazz, much of it now contains rutting lyrics that used to be unprintable.