It was the 1988 presidential election when I wrote a book on American patriotism: “America: Back to the Basics.” The contest was between George H.W. Bush and Michael Dukakis. Bush became President after Ronald Reagan’s term ended.
The book has long been out of print, but it was basically about getting back to the roots of our nation’s heritage, and back to the basics of a constitutionally based government.
I don’t know why I chose this election to write the book, but I did. I wasn’t opposing either candidate necessarily, and I liked Bush personally. When I was in law school in Texas, Bush was a state legislator, and he’d come over to my fraternity, Delta Theta Phi, and hang out and drink beer with us guys.
My slogan was, “Campaigning for America, not for political office.”
INTERVIEWED A LOT ON TV AND RADIO
I sent out notices to radio and TV stations, and was amazed how many people wanted to interview me. I was getting about 60-70% responses, where the usual number was 10-15%. But it was an election year, and my slogan was catchy and got attention. The highlights of the interviews focused on two things: — Constitutional government by the people, — One nation under God – in God we trust.
People called in to talk about these things by the droves. And the vast majority agreed that we were meant to be a Constitutional government, and we were to be guide by God and spiritual principles.
BUT I HAD VERY FEW BOOK SALES
It was strange: many people were interested in talking about the subject, but were not buying the book. In the fall after the election, licking my wounds, I approached some book and marketing consultants about what I’d done and had them analyze my situation.
Their conclusion was sad.
They basically said, “You’ve taken the approach of John F. Kennedy: ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.’ That may have sold books in the 1960s, but not in the late 1980s. In our current times people only listen to radio station WIIFM: ‘What’s in it for me?’ They aren’t interested in what they can do to change things, but only in what they can get, or benefit from.”
We talked about the difference between the massive interest, as evidenced by the phone calls to the stations during my interviews, and book sales. They said that from a patriotic standpoint, all most folks were willing to do was talk about political issues. They weren’t interested in doing anything, or spending money concerning the issues.
WE HAD BECOME PASSIVE, NOT ACTIVE
It was evident that American patriotism was decreasing.
Part of their conclusion was that we had deteriorated from being an active nation to a passive nation. All through the 1800s we were a very active nation. People were educated, concerned, and pro-active in making sure that things were above-board and ‘going according to Hoyle.’
People were constitutionally focused, and God focused. And this focus and interest and involvement was dominant, even with all the changes that began occurring in the 1900-1920 time frame that I talked about in prior articles. But they even progressed up until John F. Kennedy’s presidency. He was focused on American patriotism.
But on November 22, 1963, Kennedy was assassinated, and things changed.
Bob Dylan’s song was played a lot: “Times They Are A-Changing.” It was like the assassination in Dallas, Texas took the wind out of a lot of very loyal, dedicated, patriotic people. The thinking seemed to be that if something like this could happen then what’s the use of hoping and planning? If everything is so out of control, why try to control anything. This type thinking was voiced in many different ways.
Many people had become passive, doom-day type thinkers. Hope had greatly diminished, and so had the challenge of doing anything active to change America.
TODAY WE ARE FRAGMENTED, NOT UNITED
The song says, “All nations, all religions, that’s America to me.” It’s a great philosophy, but in its growth we have become a very fragmented nation. Many, many people don’t even speak English: “Press 1 for English” is a common voice mail choice today. We have more Jews than Israel. We have new religions being invented every day. We have more different opinions than can be counted.
Our plumb-line has been erased. We no longer have a fixed point of reference.
We need a republic, but we only have a quasi-democracy being run by strong leaders. And those strong leaders are becoming increasingly stronger. Most of them can now rest on their charisma and their name, because few people know anything about their politics or their ideals.
The Constitution has been dry-docked. God has been moved. American patriotism was on behind the curtain and was not center-stage.
A SINGING GROUP: PETER, PAUL AND MARY
This trio was not alone, but they were perhaps the strongest voice for a generation: 1960 to 2000. They had several songs that addressed political and social issues that were declining in America. They tried to re-establish a plumb-line. They tried to rally Americans to a higher calling, much like I was trying to do with my book in 1988. They tried to re-establish a fixed point of reference.
They were meditative, informative, intuitive and motivating. But like I experienced, they couldn’t inspire action. A book written during this time described this reality: “The Closing of the American Mind.” Folks search and reach for an idealized image to grasp hold of, but there are strong politics fighting against this idealized image. And leaders are more powerful than followers.
Individuals have a hard time being heard. The U.S. Congress has a loud voice.
“CHOOSE YOUR RUTS CAREFULLY”
I recall seeing a sign on a muddy, deeply rutted road in Texas: “Choose your ruts carefully. You will be in them for a long time.” It’s like a railroad train having a track to run on: it can’t get off the tracks.
We can apply this to America. We are in deep ruts. Many prophetic voices say we are in ruts that are so deep we can’t get out of them. American patriotism is an infrequent thought. Like Peter, Paul and Mary, I’m more of an idealist – an optimist. But I do sometimes wonder if my optimism isn’t also in a rut that’s going nowhere.
Our founding fathers warned us of changing from a republic to a democracy. They also warned us about evicting God, and spiritual foundation from who we are as a nation: “One Nation Under God” – “In God We Trust.” They also warned us about having an educated electorate, not an ignorant electorate. They also warned us about having a unity of purpose, not having fragmented, fractured groups of people all having different goals and desires – who can’t even speak the same language.
As Jesus would say, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
When it came to this book, it was the biggest financial flop you can possibly imagine. But the reason for that is very disheartening. The book itself was a good book, and it gleaned a lot of attention from people, and promoted a lot of talk. But it just wasn’t worth shelling out money for a subject like this.