In the days following George H. W. Bush's death, it was impossible to ignore the mood that settled over much of the country: a yearning for the civility, dignity and inclusiveness that the former president represented. It was a form of bipartisan nostalgia for a time when the nation seemed to work.
We live in a divided country. And I don't just mean politically. Our economy is creating winners and losers, with no clear way up the ladder for millions of Americans. The last few decades have produced great inequality of wealth and with it, unequal access to the levers of power. We're split along regional lines. We're divided along rural and urban lines. We increasingly struggle with differences of race, religion and class.
If you take a dim view of our political parties, you're in sterling company. So did George Washington. In his famous farewell address, he warned us against "the baneful effects of the spirit of [political] party." A political party, he wrote, "agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption..." It's safe to say he was not a fan.
You know the Pledge of Allegiance, probably by heart. You may recite it only occasionally or get the chance several times a week. Sometimes, I'm guessing, you say it mechanically, and other times filled with deep meaning. I hope it's more often the latter,because here's what's remarkable about the Pledge: in a few short phrases, it lays out the fundamentals of what our country represents and strives to achieve.
Every so often, I jot down a list of the things that discourage me about our country. There's the widespread disregard for our core values of tolerance and mutual respect, for instance. Our declining national optimism. Our relaxed attitude toward fixing our election machinery, overseeing financial institutions, and making sure that our key democratic institutions and processes are working effectively. There's wage stagnation, income inequality, a high poverty rate, failing infrastructure, inadequate health-care coverage, a dysfunctional Congress...You get the idea.
I'll be the first to admit that when it comes to journalism, I'm a traditionalist. Old-fashioned, even. But I don't think it's a coincidence that even while confidence in the media drops to new lows and Time magazine feels moved to wonder "Is Truth Dead?" on its cover, huge numbers of Americans have come to believe the media is not as authoritative as it once was.