Ever notice that the rallying cry of one side and the agonized lament of the other have something in common?
“Make America Great Again” and “What has America become?” both yearn for some unspecified time we need to reclaim.
The white picket fences of “Father Knows Best?” The boom and purpose of FDR’s New Deal?
No and no, as progressives remind us that Jim Crow was still law in the 1950s, and congressional Republicans openly, gleefully chip away at the New Deal, with Social Security very much in their sights.
Although political and cultural considerations afford no consensus of just when — much less why — America ceased being great, something else might take you in that direction: Your car.
You stop behind someone at a red light. The light changes, but that car stands still. Four seconds, five, maybe six. You are patient, but finally you hit the horn.
Forget the distracted driver and consider, instead, people on the sidewalks. They look up, they object, they make it known who’s to blame for the intrusion, who they think is the misfit in their otherwise peaceful world. You!
Today, I experienced this while listening to yet another radio commentator beg that most persistent question, “What has America become?”
By the time that car finally moved, I was brainstorming answers: Self-absorbed slackers like that driver? People like me who needlessly wait before hitting a needed horn?
Again, no and no, because both combined are far outnumbered by those on the sidewalks, those who complain about intrusion with no knowledge of — and, worse, no care for — any reason or need, any context.
From the outrage aimed at someone kneeling during the national anthem to the shrug at news of children in cages, this is what America has become.
Just when we changed may be impossible to know, but we can measure the difference since America’s birth.
Most would pick the signing of the Declaration as that moment, but for a moment of conception, how about Paul Revere’s ride?
Racing full tilt from Charleston to Lexington in the dead of night, Revere woke up men who stepped out their doors and fired rifles into the air.
That brought militias to town greens — as well as a few horsemen who yelled their own ways to Salem, Newburyport, Andover, Dracut, in between, elsewhere, and beyond where other men would fire shots to summon more militias.
Called an “alarm,” it was all prearranged.
That was then. Now, we have a decorated veteran, a career public servant in the administrations of both parties delivering a 450-page report telling us that the Russians are not just coming, but are already here.
Rather than joining the alarm, one party openly dismissed him — some with ridicule and hostility — while the other cowered in the face of controversy, disappointed that Robert Mueller did not fire all the shots and ride all the connecting routes himself.
Revere rode in a nascent nation that heeded alarms; Mueller wrote in a nation that can’t be bothered.
On May 29 of this year, the difference could not have been more glaring. Hours after Mueller gave the press conference saying that his report should “speak for itself,” tornadoes touched down in southwest Ohio.
When a Dayton television station put on a meteorologist to issue warnings, viewers texted complaints that “The Bachelorette” had been interrupted.
Nine weeks later, a mass shooting made Dayton a microcosm of America’s macrospasm yet again.
Dayton’s claim to greatness matches that of any mid-size American city, most notably with the Wright Brothers in 1904. But Wilbur and Orville built alarms into their experimental aircraft, and they would have been killed at Kitty Hawk had they not heeded them.
Just as America would have been stillborn had Revere tried to alarm the same public that Mueller, with 10 clear counts of obstruction, could not awaken.
Since then, the reluctant party has been slapped into — and even a few Republicans have been embarrassed into — action.
Forget the irony of anonymous whistleblowers commanding more attention than the Mueller Report. Let’s just hope that people on the sidewalks heed the alarm.
It’s not a time we need to reclaim. It’s a willingness to pay attention.