5 to go, will America make 250?

July 3, 2021

Forty-five years ago this weekend, I was between my Freshman and Sophomore years of High School.  A lanky Kansas farm kid who was now fully useful on either a tractor, combine, pickup or wheat truck.

But the biggest event that summer for this budding history geek was that America had made it to 200.  I had the postal service souvenir sheets, the 50 state flags page, a bag of bicentennial quarters and whatever other souvenirs I could get my hands on with my limited purchasing power at the time.

Yet for all my personal appreciation of the moment, that nation itself just didn’t seem to feel it.

The energy crisis of ’73, Watergate in ’74, the fall of Saigon in ’75, a recession wreaking havoc, inflation running rampant and interest rates reaching for the sky, had left the American public in the summer of ’76 in a less than celebratory mood.

The miracle of the American Revolution took a back seat to the realities of the day as two things most associated with the American dream, home ownership and the beauty and style of the American automobile were both under assault.

While inflation and interest rates were certainly taking their toll on housing, I will believe to my dying day that what future President Jimmy Carter would call our “crisis of confidence” was directly related to the federal government’s intrusion into that most iconic symbol of freedom and independence:  the American automobile.

Rather than combat the Arab oil embargo of ’73 with a Manhattan Project style commitment to developing American energy independence the federal government instead forced upon the populace a 55mph national speed limit and the Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency (CAFÉ) standards that resulted in the worst decade in automotive history.

While names like Pinto, Gremlin, Vega, and K cars come to mind they all shared the same traits, an abrupt drop in quality, performance, and durability.

The generation that just 30 years earlier had saved the world from tyranny and followed that up with putting men on the moon and returning them safely to Earth were now being told by their own federal government how fast they could drive and in what types of vehicles they would be making that drive.

Compared to the rest of the world, America at 200 was still the best thing going but that best had lost its shine.  In homes and businesses across the country the resolve and confidence that had gotten us through two centuries was being tested in ways not imaginable just a decade earlier.

In the end, we met the test and the advances we’ve made since that summer of ‘76 are nothing less than amazing.  No, it’s not been perfect and yes there is still work to be done, but there is still no nation upon this Earth with more freedom, more opportunity, or a higher standard of living than this United States of America.

But there’s no guarantee it will always be this way.

As then newly elected governor of California Ronald Reagan reminded us in his 1967 inaugural address: “Freedom is a fragile thing and it’s never more than one generation away from extinction. It is not ours by way of inheritance; it must be fought for and defended constantly by each generation, for it comes only once to a people.”

Culturally and politically we are as divided today as at any time in our history, including the Civil War.  We may not be in a shooting war but make no mistake, this nation is once again at war with itself.

Speech is being censored, religious liberty is under fire, and the rule of law is crumbling before our eyes.  And with it, the order and structure a civil society needs if it is to survive.

A political essay “The 1619 Project” that claims the revolutionary war was fought to preserve slavery has made its way into the classroom.  Combined with critical race theory ideology (a concept that divides society between oppressed and oppressor) it is a combustible mix of misinformation that if not checked and checked now, could very well permanently remove the “United” out of these United States of America.

The political left is on the march and it is not just the President of the United States cheering it on.  Academia, Big Tech, and most of the American Press are giving support to an ideology that if not stopped, will leave in its wake damage irreparable.

So, whatever your plans for this 4th of July take a moment and reflect on another line from that Reagan speech, Montesquieu’s 1748 warning “The deterioration of every government begins with the decay of the principles on which it was founded.”

If we’re to make it to 250, the decay must be stopped.

Publisher Note:  A version of this column appears in the Jul 3, 2021 edition of the Joplin Globe

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