If I Were President…

I would give the following speech, perhaps as a resignation.

My Fellow Americans,

For years there has been an abiding and central myth in American culture and politics, the myth of unending prosperity. For decades we’ve talked about it, shouted it during every election, and used it to obtain the privileges of power we now hold. It has become our true religion, as it were, a creed for a life lived with accumulation as the marker for success and the promise that those who come after it will have even more.

Both the people in my party and the other have this in common. We may have different strategies and policies to realize this but essentially we agree that our job is to gain and hold political power on the promise that you and those after you will have more of whatever is dictated by the fashion of the time. It’s an arrangement that has served us well. We promise, you wait for the flow of godds to come your way, and if we fail the others are to blame.

And to date there have been some good things that have come of it. There is a good kind of progress that comes when diseases can be cured, the world made safer, and the common good is served. The drive to accumulate has its positive side affects. The desire for a better, which basically means more prosperous, future has broken the sound barrier, sent us to the farthest reaches of our solar system, and brought a kind of longevity to our lives that would be the marvel of centuries past.

Yet somehow in the euphoria of all of this we’ve forgotten a simple fact. There are limits. Advanced medicine can delay but not prevent death. Every source of energy has waste that we must deal with. We can’t keep spending money we don’t have and expect it not to affect our future. And finally we have to disabuse ourselves of the notion that we are entitled to never ending always ascending economic prosperity.

There are limits. As vast and rich as our planet is it is still a finite system. There is much but there are also many who need it. In the past the strong were able to survive because they took what they needed and left whatever they wished for others. This seemed to be based on the assumption that strength was as unlimited as the resources, that strength was a form of validation in and of itself.

Much of what we call the “American Dream” is rooted in this understanding. Accumulation is strength and strength is the validation of the accumulation. Yet there is a question in all of this that never seems to be asked, namely “To what end?”

Prosperity without generosity is meaningless. Accumulating for its own purpose is a kind of slavery. Accepting blessings without thought of charity is selfishness.  Advancing while leaving others behind is the kettle in which war is brought to boil.  We’ve missed this. We’ve missed how we’re linked together. We’ve missed how we are, in fact, our brother’s keeper. We’ve forgotten that the world is larger than our own little world.

And now to the hard part. Government can’t do a blessed thing about this because government in this country reflects the attitude of the governed. If you think government is selfish and stupid it’s because we’ve become, as a culture, selfish and stupid. If we who run for office promise you unending rewards with little cost it’s because we know that if we said something different you wouldn’t hear it. It’s like we’ve both ignored the elephant in the room and seem quite happy with the arrangement.

The change that needs to happen is actually inside each of us. We have to kick the consumer habit. We have to go cold turkey on the idea that the next big thing is what will solve our problems and make us happy. We have to forget the notion that government exists to ensure the myth of unending prosperity. We’ve got to rewrite the story on more realistic terms and wake up from the American dream.

It will be hard. We’ve lived this way for so long that its absurdity has become normal in the same way that a drug becomes the normal life of an addict. We’ll have to face hard realities. We’ll need to make choices beyond our self interest. And the government won’t be able to help you because it, too, has to wake up the the dream as well.

We’ll need a whole generation of people to say “I will live and work only so much as to provide for my reasonable comfort and commit myself to sharing the rest for the common good.” We’ll need a whole generation focused on that which is higher, brighter, enduring, and dare I say it, even eternal, over and against the needs of a moment. We’ll need a generation of people willing to remember the lessons of the past and understand that choices made now will affect a developing future. We’ll need a generation of people who see themselves as part of something larger than they are not as a result of some government mandate but because of a genuine concern for the other. We need a moral sea change.

And you, the people have to lead because we in the government simply don’t have that kind of vision at the present. We will, in time because when the people lead the leaders will follow, but right now this archaic and creaking house needs a fresh breath of wind through the windows, a new coat of paint on the fading exterior, and everything inside gutted and made new. That will take time.

Until then each of us can become the kind of person we’d like our culture to be. Each of us can choose the right even if the powers that be still struggle with it. Each of us can be the future we wish for our children. Each of us can take responsibility for ourselves and the common good.

It won’t be the American dream we’ve come to know. It’ll be better because it will be real.

Thank you and good night.

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