Regardless of where you may fall on the political spectrum, there is one thing every American seems to agree on — our political process is badly broken.
Gaylord Swim described the political failings of our day, saying, “This political process requires strong advocates, certainly, but it also takes a counter-balancing sense of humility, civility, and dialogue … the political course often leads to power struggles, pride, vanity and egocentric ambition, ending in acrimony. It all too often manifests itself in strident voices, character assassinations, protest demonstrations, cloakroom deals, and corruption.”
So while our political system is deeply damaged and in disarray, I am actually more bullish and optimistic about America’s future than ever. My reason for hope has nothing to do with which party controls the House and Senate, who is sitting on the Supreme Court, or who is occupying the Oval Office — it has everything to do with who is sitting in the living rooms, classrooms, waiting rooms and community meeting rooms of our country.
The magic of America is not housed in the halls of Congress, memorialized in a majestic monument or stored in a secure vault. The magic of America is found within ordinary people who do extraordinary things each day. The neighbor helping a neighbor in need, the teacher staying late to help a struggling student, the friend intently listening to a tale of heartbreak, the professional providing free service to solve a problem, the child standing up to a bully for a classmate — these heroic citizens are the thread with which strong neighborhoods and vibrant communities are woven. It is the culture that leads, drives and fortifies the nation.
It is also vital for us to remember that our politicians rarely, if ever, lead — they follow. Even going back to our beginning as a nation, the culture and the community have led and the politicians have followed. We celebrate the Declaration of Independence as an extraordinary document, which it clearly was and is. Yet it was a lagging document, not a leading document. Scott Rasmussen, in his book “Politics Has Failed: America Will Not” (published by Sutherland Institute), writes, “The powerful principles and inspiring ideals penned in the Declaration of Independence were not even written until 15 months after the War of Independence began.” The Declaration was certainly a great galvanizing document, but it definitely was not a leading document.
As John Adams put it, the “radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people, was the real American Revolution.” That radical change began ever so quietly in homes and schoolrooms across the colonies.
In an interview I conducted with historian David Barton, he asserted that the first four battles fought in the American Revolution — Lexington, Concord, the Road to Boston and Bunker Hill — were all carried out by local communities standing up and taking action.
Early patriots recognized they were fighting for their local community, their friends and their family. They were not going to sit around and wait for central planning to develop a strategy. Their willingness to act locally proved to be priceless in their collective pursuit of freedom for our nation. The Rev. Jonas Clark rallied 70 men out of his church to face 700 British soldiers in the battle of Lexington. The Rev. William Emerson gathered 300 locals to fight in the battle of Concord Bridge, and that model continued at Boston and Bunker Hill. Communities stood and fought and led — and freedom did not fall.
Another example of culture and community leading and politicians eventually following is found in Jackie Robinson, who broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball. In an epic moment for the civil rights movement, Robinson stepped up to the plate in the spring of 1947. However, the political leaders in Congress lagged far behind, not passing a major Civil Rights Act until 1964 — 17 years later!
Rasmussen described another era of importance in America’s history — but its importance is not for the reason most political thinkers think. He wrote, “During the 1970s, journalists covered everything from Watergate and Vietnam to stagflation and energy crises. Nobody paid any attention when Bill Gates and Steve Jobs dropped out of college to launch Microsoft and Apple. Looking back on it, just about everything that the politicians and media talked about in the ’70s seems irrelevant today. It was Jobs and Gates — and the companies they created — that changed the world.”
My hope for America’s future is grounded in the idea that when we look to people instead of politicians, community instead of Congress, and culture instead of government control, our future looks very, very bright. So, while politics has failed, America will not!