Judging by the current national sentiment, Uncle Sam has once again wandered off the happy trails on which we’d prefer him to ride. But can we, just the usual joshing sidekick, possibly help him wend his way back through the tumbleweeds? Well, at least, we can give it a go.
To begin, let's ask how the most sagely free and prosperous nation can often wander so distressingly far from the path on which we may find the preconditions of contentment, including the wide laudation of our allies and even encouragement toward our own bliss?
What if we search for clues by separating what has guided us, nationally and internationally, into two visions: the steps we, as a nation, must take and the steps we choose to take.
Since we don’t have much choice about what necessity compels, we’re more likely to mend our ways by casting a savvy eye on what we do by volition. But just to review the various paths before us, so we find our way home with unsurpassable security, let’s briefly explore the less promising paths for remediation.
Where does the ancient bugaboo, necessity, compel us to tread?
Nationally, pretty much all that’s here is comparatively tame – the generally recognized roles of government, such as providing for the common defense, which, of course, includes whacking terrorist everywhere, preserving the right of our citizens to wake up each morning and be free to decide what they’d like to do, if only they didn’t have to go to work, and effecting the timely filling of potholes.
Internationally, we must, of course, cultivate our allies, encourage our biggest adversaries toward reassuring behavior; and do what we can to facilitate the rewards of almost-fair trade.
Since we have little or no choice about the above, we can only regard them as signposts along the trail we ought to be on or as unavoidable gopher holes we ought to approach very carefully.
Now, we come to the first signs of hope for a homeward-bound revelation – the things we actually have a choice about. And what do we see? Nothing less than where we have wandered from our happy trails.
First, nationally, we can actually choose to provide for the usual litany of things we ought to have had a long time ago, like schools we send our kids to with confidence they will return safely and filled with “news about the square of the hypotenuse,” healthcare we can afford without eviscerating our wallets, air we can inhale without significantly eroding the longevity of our lungs, and water we can drink that flows freely from our faucets. We might as individuals also choose to conduct ourselves so that we contribute to a mutually sane society, and the various vociferous factions who would impose their advocacies on all of us might reacquaint themselves with the delights of national diversity.
Now, at long last come to the point in the trail where, we think, Uncle Sam has most egregiously lost his way, that is, we have set our eyes on the things America can choose to do internationally. Here is, in fact, the very spot where we have stumbled off of our happy trails so regularly one might conclude Uncle Sam has, with some frequency, reached into his saddlebag for a sip of 80-proof guidance.
At this suspect location, we have all too often decided that the way to solve our problems internationally is to go to war. We’re not, of course, referring to the big wars, which necessity compels us to participate in, like World Wars I and II, and, just maybe, Korea. But the wars we have elected to take part in, the most wretched examples of misguidance being Viet Nam and now Iraq. These distant guns never had to sound and we never had to incur the remorseful loss of life or the economically debilitating expense of them.
But before we can stop wandering off into these woeful misadventures, we have to see an alternative path – one that definitely keeps us on our happy trails. And what might that revolutionary and salutary remediation in our international conduct consist of?
We think, having arrived at this point in our brief but perspicacious way home, that the answer is right before our eyes. Rather than warring to achieve our goals, we should, working with our allies and all the friends we can attract, use our naturally encouraging disposition and persuasive economic power to bring along nations that would actually like to be free and democratic, while we let the ones that have a problem with these self-evidently superior ideals go their own self-defeating ways.Then we would affably cultivate a world of successful emerging democracies, while our comparatively faltering antagonists would be confronted with examples that reiterate the error of their ways.
As a result, we would find ourselves, not exhausted gladiators of a reluctant empire, but happy emissaries of freedom and plenty. We would inhabit, not a world that can scapegoat us for its myriad self-inflicted agonies, but a world populated more and more by exemplars of the ways we advocate, such prosperous recipients of our benefactions that they might, we expect, actually have some unusually complimentary things to say about us.
And, speaking of exemplars, now that we would have replenished our eviscerated national treasury, we could also afford to provide our own citizenry with the sort of support systems the world’s wealthiest nation should have long ago been able to provide abundantly.
We have now wandered, though briefly, enough in our search for the way back to happy trails to know exactly the fork that has often us astray: international conduct about which we have a choice.
What we need is not the coercion of those who disagree with us, but the encouragement of those who wish to emulate us. What we need is America, not so much as a feared power, but more as a nourishing example of what we consider the most salutary principles.
We might, with these choices, actually achieve our goals internationally – and in ways that help us achieve our goals nationally.
Yes, often-wayward Uncle, with such signposts, we might once again find ourselves on happy trails – and know, for the first time, how to keep ourselves and our fabled white charger squarely on them.