What is happening to America? I must admit that I have been pretty discouraged about the state of our union ever since the November election, but this past month has me just about ready to give up hope that America will ever recover the greatness we once had.
From the beginning of our history this country had to overcome the moral failures of those who lead our nation. The decision to come to a new land was a brave choice, but once here those founders brought destruction and death to the Native Americans. Their lands were stolen, they were forced onto reservations, and tens of thousands of native people were killed.
In addition to those atrocities, tens of thousands of black people were kidnapped from their homes and lands and brought to America in chains, enslaved to owners who treated them as property to be abused, overworked, and killed or sold as they pleased. It took a Civil War that nearly destroyed our country to end the legal practice of slavery in the United States.
I often think about the hypocrisy of those men who wrote that “all men are created equal” while the majority of them owned slaves.
It was a shameful beginning for America, and there have been other disgraceful decisions since. Turning away and refusing to accept into American ports ships loaded with Jewish people fleeing the Holocaust in Hitler’s Germany is just one example. After that cruel mistake, Americans promised that never again would the United States choose the wrong side of history and that we would stand as a beacon of light and goodness for the rest of the world to emulate.
After World War II, the United States did become that beacon, and it grew to become the most influential country with the biggest domestic economy in the world. The president of the United States was internationally recognized as both the most powerful person in the world and the leader of the nations of the Free World. We were the example that people of other nationalities chose to idealize and to emulate.
Over the past year much of that has changed. China now has the world’s largest economy, and recent changes by the Chinese government have made Chinese President Xi Jinping the most powerful person in the world. Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel is now regarded as the leader of the Free World. America is no longer as respected in other countries, and Canada and France are more often cited as models of freedom than we are.
I believe the election of Donald Trump as president is one of the greatest moral failings in the history of the United States, but that in itself does not explain the decline of America. In fact, it is actually more a symptom than a cause of the erosion of our country. What has gone wrong with us as a society is what allowed such a morally and intellectually unqualified man to ever be elected president.
I have read opinions that this downfall began with Nixon and Watergate or with Bill Clinton’s infidelity. White supremacists blame the election of Barack Obama and having a black man in the Oval Office. Some people claim that taking prayer out of public schools has caused America to lose its moral conscience.
But events of the past month have convinced me that it is not the fault of the government or of any politician, but that it is average ordinary Americans who are destroying this country. I believe the problem is not America, it is Americans.
In October, 58 people were killed and over 500 were injured by a lone American gunman in Las Vegas. Last week, 26 people were killed and 20 were wounded in a small Baptist Church in Texas, again by a single American gunman.
Former FOX host Bill O’Reilly said the dead and injured were nothing more than “the cost of freedom.” A gun owner told the Washington Post that those murdered and wounded men, women, and children were “acceptable losses” for his right to own all the guns of any kind he wants. For a few days some Americans offered thoughts and prayers, then the stories dropped out of the news.
The news has also been filled with reports of powerful men accused of sexually assaulting women, girls, and boys. Men like Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, actor Kevin Spacey, and comedian Louis C. K. have been widely denounced for their indecent and criminal behavior, and rightfully so. Conservative sites such as FOX News have devoted hours of coverage to those “immoral liberals” and compared them to Bill Clinton’s behavior from 20 years ago.
Then last week, it was revealed that Alabama senatorial candidate Roy Moore is accused of inappropriate sexual behavior, including molesting a 14-year-old girl when he was 32. One of his fellow Republicans compared Moore’s behavior with the young girl to that of Joseph and Mary and said there was nothing wrong with it. Others called Moore’s accusers liars, and an Alabama lawmaker called for their arrest. One of Moore’s supporters said that even if Moore was a child molester, it was better than being a Democrat.
It was also revealed that Bill O’Reilly paid $32 million to settle a lawsuit for forcing a woman into having “nonconsensual sex” and that a lawsuit filed against Donald Trump for sexual harassment will be going forward after Trump’s efforts to have the lawsuit dismissed were denied. Trump has also been accused of instigating unwanted sexual contact by at least 16 other females, including the rape of a 13-year-old girl.
How did FOX News respond to the allegations against Moore, O’ Reilly, and Trump? The network spent about five minutes reporting about O’Reilly and several hours defending Moore and Trump and calling all of their accusers liars and worse. Apparently sexual assault is only wrong if the accused is a liberal. If a conservative is accused of wrongdoing, the allegations must either be false or the act is deemed Biblically approved. (I still get mad about evangelicals comparing Donald Trump to King David.)
Over the past few weeks I have watched in disbelief as many Americans have accepted mass murders as “acceptable losses” and defended accused molesters while vilifying the victims. I have heard some Americans cheer as the president disparaged protesters, journalists, and other elected officials. I have personally been threatened and called more names than you can imagine for criticizing Donald Trump and opposing Republican policies.
Bill O’Reilly, Roy Moore and his defenders, those FOX News personalities, and all of the people who have harassed me recently have one trait in common — they all proudly identify themselves as conservative Christians who regularly say that America is a “Christian nation” and hold themselves up as examples of Christian Americans.
In my opinion this is the major problem with Americans today, and is most responsible for the current crisis in our country. Those who most loudly trumpet their Christianity don’t behave anything at all like Jesus Christ.
Patsy Sheppard, a St. Pauls resident, is a retired educator and active locally in the Democratic Party.