Once upon a time, there was a largely peaceful and prosperous country filled with people who believed their most precious possession was Liberty. They believed in living as they pleased, so long as they harmed no one, being left alone, and, in turn, leaving others alone. Most importantly, they believed in a government that reflected these values, staying out of the lives of private citizens who sought, for the most part, to peaceably go about their lives.
These people also believed in working hard, living frugally, and saving rainy days. While it was true that some people did not do as well as others, most people did well enough, and some did very well indeed. When a neighbor needed help, they helped, not because they were forced to, but because it was the right thing to do. Communities thrived based on compassion and not on compulsion. Society worked, because, by and large, everyone played by these very simple rules.
No, it wasn’t perfect. There were serious injustices stemming from long held racial prejudices that had infested human society since its earliest days. From the question of chattel slavery to the grotesque mistreatment of the native populace, from the internment of law abiding Japanese Americans during the Second World War to the generational poverty machine that has devoured so many minorities, America has an imperfect record.
In America’s defense, where they have done wrong, there have always been voices of reason and virtue that have prosecuted those wrongs and then put blood on the line where necessary to set things right. Even in times great injustice, the seeds of change were sewn and, often over generations, unjust practices have been and will continue to be discarded, not despite the philosophy of the Founding Fathers but because of them.
It is part of the American culture to wet the appetite of each generation to make a better nation than the previous generation.
God forbid we should ever be 20 years without such a rebellion.
– Thomas Jefferson
Why should we care at all about “virtue“? Because people will protest over the political. They will kill over virtue. Berkeley, CA, Huntington Beach, CA, and Alexandria, VA prove that the ideal of peaceful pluralism in America is a thing of the past, at least for the time being. Today, two vast political camps dominate the American landscape, motivated by a toxic brew of inflammatory misinformation and entrenched habitual mistrust of “the other“.
Over the last twenty years, we’ve witnessed endless cycles of prejudicial witch hunts and reprisal campaigns of character assassination, with each side trying to break the will of the other to continue the fight, but only ever succeeding in fueling the animosity that inevitably leads to the next cycle of escalation. We’ve finally reached the point in America that rhetoric is finally spilling over into actual physical violence, rabidly self righteous “Antifa” socialists facing off with just as rabidly self righteous “MAGA” nationalists in altercations with increasing frequency.
Sadly, this is basic human nature, revealing its bared teeth and blood soaked hands again, and, given the example of history, there’s little chance of escaping what is likely inevitable at this point. Even though our society remains deeply fractured and ideologically rudderless, both the left and the right have one thing in common. Both believe they are definitively “virtuous“, at least as far as their own definitions of virtue are concerned, making it all the more easy to persecute their opposition.
It is this keen sense of “virtue” versus “vice” that motivates people to action, not political rhetoric, and so long as we live in a country with no coherent shared national virtue, social anarchy will rule.
Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.
– Dr. Seuss, The Lorax
Take any boring local ordinance or state level legislation, and these same people will barely pay any attention at all. Charge it, however, with the “virtue” of helping the poor or getting rid of needless restrictions on business freedom, then instill the opposition with “vice“, for being indifferent to the plight of the poor or being un-American by being hostile to business owners who just want to ply an honest trade, suddenly it provokes both sides to action.
Whether or not a point of law or a candidate are capable of actually saving the country or personally ending inequality becomes entirely irrelevant. The only thing people care about is their emotional response. Political propagandists redefine “virtue” to whatever they need it to be to motivate their base, even if this makes it impossible for opposing sides to discuss things civilly or even at all, and even if it drives people to resorting to physical violence.
The only way to counter this malignant manipulation of the people is to reestablish an objective, coherent, and consistent national virtue, independent of the pundit class of both political parties. Make no mistake, this will not be easy, because there is a lack of a shared political vocabulary, which makes even rudimentary conversations between factions difficult. A larger obstacle still is the sheer number of people on both sides that simply aren’t equipped to engage in any kind of discussion.
Unless we successfully offer a new “American virtue” and corresponding political party to help buttress it, the violence in America will simply continue to get worse, and a lot of innocent people are going to get hurt.
Liberty is For The Win!