Sunday, April 15, 2007
What's happening to America?
15, 2007 -- Consider what's been in the news recently and
the associated impacts:
- Cable television continues to feed a celebrity-obsessed
America with a steady diet of news surrounding the death
of a mediocre model in the Bahamas and the paternity of
her new daughter.
- The country is in the midst of a war that has killed almost
3,300 Americans, yet most Americans don't seem to notice
that it is ongoing.
- A national radio shock jock is fired over racially-charged,
insensitive remarks about the Rutgers women's basketball
- A flamboyant Charleston economist is jailed after claiming
amnesia during an investigation into how he allegedly invested
up to $134 million - or more - of people's hard-earned money.
You could probably create a similar list. But the bottom
line leads to a simple question: What is happening to the
America where people who work hard may realize the American
It seems our culture, saturated by television, video games,
the need for Hummers and disposable living, is even more in
the grips of what President Jimmy Carter called a "national
malaise" in 1979.
In a speech that July, Carter noted, "In a nation that
was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities,
and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence
In 2000, Harvard professor Robert Putnam outlined how the
once vibrant American spirit of civic engagement was dying
due to less community involvement in everything from parent-teacher
associations to civic associations, such as Shriners, Masons
and Elks. The Odd Fellows organization, once huge across the
nation, had dwindled to almost nothing. Participation also
was down in bowling leagues, the NAACP and friendly poker
games, he discovered.
"In 1992, three-quarters of the U.S. workforce said
that 'the breakdown of community' and 'selfishness' were 'serious'
or 'extremely' serious problems in America," Putnam wrote
in his book, Bowling Alone.
This continuing civic malaise seems to be due to the sense
of generalized contentment that most Americans have. Compared
to 100 years ago, most Americans have a home (shelter), food
(they're not hungry) and clean water. They've got at least
one TV and a phone - probably more than one of each. They've
In other words, Americans of today are comfortable and prosperous,
compared to those of two or three generations back. Perhaps
with this contentment comes a focus on the individual, not
society. Instead of working to make communities better, today's
Americans are more focused on satisfying selfish needs.
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2007 poll by the Pew Research Center appears to confirm
this observation. It showed young people (18-25) generally
had more casual sex, resorted more often to violence, had
more binge drinking, used more drugs and voted less than the
same group 20 years earlier. Today's young adults also told
researchers that their number one goal was to get rich or
Yet there is a glimmer of hope in this "Generation Next."
The same poll showed voter turnout increased between 2000
and 2004. They were less cynical about the role of government
than the previous generation. They see the value of using
the Internet, but admit it can make people lazier.
Challenges exist on every level of American society. Communities
want a better quality of life. States want better education,
health care and services that meet people's needs. Nationally,
people want a better functioning government, reliable energy
and protection from threats like terrorism and global warming.
But maybe America's biggest future challenge is to keep the
American Dream alive in the midst of the malaise and contentment
that have fogged our society.
The 19th century is known as the European century. The 20th
was the American century. The 21st is supposed to be the century
of China's rise to power.
If America wants to remain relevant over the long haul, it
has to balance its zeal for creature comforts with a reinvigorated
spirit of competitiveness and shared sacrifice.
You can reach Andy Brack, publisher of
SC Statehouse Report, at email@example.com.
Another great cartoon by Bill McLemore:
4/4: SC should take head out of sand
To the editor:
I read with interest and amusement your
article in this week's Charleston Business Journal about
the state needing to boost its competitiveness. I am always
surprised when people are surprised that South Carolina ranks
so low. I applaud the State's Chamber for continuing to call
attention to the problem, but there is one critical component
that everyone seems to keep missing.
South Carolina will never be able to attract real businesses
(Fortune 500 and other high-wage employers) because the state
is seen as socially backwards and unwelcoming to diversity.
No matter how great the quality of life is, young talented
educated people who can work anywhere they choose will simply
never choose to live someplace where everyone looks the same
or where entire populations of people seem marginalized.
This may sound alarmist or extreme, but I promise you it is
not. Places such as New York, California, Massachusetts all
have or have had Republican governors, and yet the jobs are
still there. It's not so much a function of who's in power,
but rather how the states view social matters of the day.
Hate crime laws, domestic partner benefits, nondiscrimination
practices, etc., are all intangible things (unlike new roads
and better bridges which go without saying) that play a huge
role in perception. Perception is reality.
Real employers paying high wages (I'm not talking about Wal
Marts here) will only go where they have an abundant talent
pool from which to choose. The talent will simply not be here
as long as the perceptions of South Carolina do not change.
As a cultural and welcoming place, perception-wise, the Spoleto
Festival in Charleston can hardly carry the city, much less
the entire state.
Until the Chamber and State Legislature even acknowledge this
as a problem we cannot begin to dig ourselves out. No amount
of unemployment reform or bridge building will fix this one.
It's time to take our head out of the sand and quit wondering
what's wrong; it's the elephant in the room that nobody wants
to talk about.
-- Daniel Berler, Mount Pleasant, S.C.
- 4/3: Don't
condemn people for choices, Elizabeth S. Bunker,
Fountain Inn, SC.
- 4/2: Sanford
would be good veep, Terry L. Bowyer, Lyman, SC
- 3/26: House
off-base on ultrasound vote, Ree Mallison, West Columbia,
- 3/25: Condemns
abortion, George W. Dargen, Darlington, SC
- 3/20: Payday
lending is sought-after service, Ken Compton, Spartanburg,
- 3/16: SC
on track to becoming nuclear chump, Leslie Minerd,
- 3/16: Everybody
loses with payday lending, Earl Capps, Summerville,
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