From the perspective of the Chickaming Community Garden, which Mr C and I customarily visit on the Fourth of July, I took stock of the nation, the part of it I know best—Chicago and Illinois—particularly. For the first time ever I felt disillusioned—I let the holiday slip past unobserved—whereas I usually feel some optimism or pride. For the moment, our society is not resurgent but in decline.
You all know the litany: an ignorant public, a president who does not respect the Constitution, a Congress that has forgotten how to govern openly. In Illinois, the legislature has failed its citizens in so many ways that the state, despite having one of the nation’s most productive economies, can’t pay its bills and is drowning in debt. While its credit rating hovers dangerously close to junk status, its lawmakers dawdle. And Chicago? It’s a city where trigger-happy cops can’t be dismissed or brought to justice, where civic leaders and philanthropies stand by as hundreds of poorer Chicagoans die of gun violence or, because of it, live in perpetual fear.
Many of these problems are occurring because the best people in our society have turned their backs on their responsibility to others. Privileged Americans are no longer as involved as they once were in shaping the tenor and direction of society, whether as neighbors, church members, local leaders, or employers. In the absence of such personal influence, and absent a system of education that inculcates civic virtue, too many people in our society are getting their values from media that haplessly promote violence and incivility. Donald Trump’s rise to the presidency is the very reason Americans must take the quality of their culture seriously. Without this foundation, Americans can have little to cheer on Independence Day.