It's time to remember who we are as Americans

"Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was once like in the United States where men were free."

— Ronald Reagan

The best decade in American history was the 1980s, hands down.  It was economically prosperous, we had cartoonish bad guys even more evil than Nazis to defeat (which we of course did), the music kicked ass, and the world was introduced to Optimus Prime. But the best part was that it was a decade of unabashed patriotism, where no expression of love for our country was too cheesy (Hulk Hogan and Apollo Creed, I’m looking at you, you magnificent bastards). 

It was the last time when kids were expected to free range.  Who had time to helicopter parent, and even if they did, the abuse you’d get from your buddies from being clad in virtual bubble wrap would quickly make you yearn for adulthood. There was a toughness to the country still that we’ve lost in the decades since. The grandparents of the ‘80s had won World War II, and the living memory of what we were capable of was embedded in the culture in a way that we have since forgotten.

I spent the decade in public school in a conservative state, and learned to love the study of history, and through that, to love my country.  And the history wasn’t whitewashed — I’m baffled by people who act like no one was ever taught that many of founders of the country owned slaves, or that the Confederacy weren’t the bad guys. We were taught – correctly, in my view – that ending racism meant not giving a damn about people’s color in the end, and that those who would divide us up or judge people based on their race were on the wrong side of history, even if the dividers claimed their race consciousness was benevolent. Learning history correctly means perspective, which means inevitably concluding that the ongoing experiment in self-government that is our Republic has truly resulted in the greatest nation in history.  

The America of the 1980s was audacious, ambitious, and optimistic. We let our flag fly – Democrats and Republicans alike – and believed we were invincible, and could do anything.  That sort of attitude is contagious, and self-fulfilling. We sorely need it again.

***

I’m trying to imagine this pandemic happening in an America that confident, understanding of its history, and united in its culture and understanding of itself.  

Without the internet, working from home wouldn’t have been an option for most people. On the other hand, without the internet, we wouldn’t suffer from the artificial virus that is social media.  

There would have been far more trust in public health and government officials, not least because such people were more serious and trustworthy then.  

If you had put the question to the 75 year-olds of that time, “We can probably keep you from getting a disease that might be deadly to you – but you need to agree to put tens of millions of Americans out of work, keep tens of millions of kids home from school (contrary to expert scientific recommendation, ‘natch), and oh, by the way, you need to stay totally isolated from human contact,” you would not have a lot of buy-in from that generation, especially when you told them these restrictions would be indefinite. 

I imagine further the disdain these veterans of wars against the tyranny of Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, and Soviet Russia (and her many communist proxy slave states) would have, had you suggested to them that we should give state governors interminable “emergency” powers with little or no legislative input, or if churches should be restricted more heavily than restaurants, or that those governors should have “snitch lines” for citizens to tattle on each other for not following gubernatorial whims after a fatigued public stops listening to a government which has lost its credibility. No, it wouldn’t have flown at all – Americans then knew freedom was worth fighting for – even when that meant putting lives on the line. 

Certainly, no American city of the 1980s – no matter which party controlled its government – would have allowed or even hinted at justifying, excusing, or encouraging violent and destructive riots in their cities. Seattle’s failed and deadly experiment in anti-capitalist utopia would never have occurred, or would have lasted hours rather than weeks.  

We face far more – and greater – risks than a single disease.  And it’s worth noting that even as cases spike, death rates continue to fall nation-wide, our hospitals are not overwhelmed (we haven’t even dipped into the extra beds prepped at Renown). It is hard to justify this ongoing sacrifice when there is STILL not any sort of articulated end game – how long do we wear masks, cancel all of our local cultural touchstones, hobble the operations of countless businesses, keeps schools shuttered (or limited), offend justice by keeping trials on hold (we functionally have suspended habeas corpus at this point, if you dare challenge charges against you), and live under the Rule of Emergency Order? We’ll never be 100 percent safe from this or any other virus – are we really going to live this isolated zombie half-life and stunted economy until we discover an elixir of immortality?

We’re made of sterner stuff than this. At least I certainly hope we still are.

***

“Great” and even “greatest” is not synonymous with “perfect,” of course, even in the 1980s USA.  But you have to wonder, now that we are so woke and willing to divide ourselves up by race again because some college know-it-all-hippies understand neither our own history nor the history of humanity generally, are we better off now?  Is this who we want to be?  Is there any nation or people, now or in all of history, who could live up to whatever standards Cancel Culture has announced we must all bow to this week?

This Fourth of July weekend, the President of the United States flew to western South Dakota to rah rah his nation on its birthday in front of one its most audacious monuments to itself. In saner times, this would simply be cool, and Americans could all just enjoy the pageantry together, whether or not they voted for that president. Now, the tribalism has gotten so stupid that Mt. Rushmore itself is filling the fantasies of the statue topplers, and the DNC’s official Twitter account suggested that celebrating Independence Day is tantamount to white supremacy. 

Enough.  

People were willing to risk spreading COVID-19 several weeks ago because they felt that issues of race and police brutality were worth risking lives to gather together and protest. I disagree with many of the allegations of the protesters with respect to the scope or systemic nature of the problem, but I respect that some of them want a more just society (others simply want to be the oppressors, as is so often the case with self-styled revolutionaries).

But the framework of laws and rights the United States of America has so uniquely developed over its history – the very idea that is America – is worth standing up and speaking up for, too. The concepts of individual liberty and freedom are worthy, and the men who gave us the tools at our founding to see them fully realized are heroic for those efforts, regardless of how far they themselves fell short of their own stated ideals.  

The world would be a darker and far less free place without the United States. This Independence Day weekend, may we rekindle the pride we deserve to have for this great country, and the principles of its founding documents that we have too long taken for granted and are now too close to losing. And may we rediscover who we are, and who we can be – a confident, courageous people who understand freedom is worth the risk and cost it takes to keep it.  

Orrin Johnson has been writing and commenting on Nevada and national politics since 2007.  He started with an independent blog, First Principles, and was a regular columnist for the Reno Gazette-Journal from 2015-2016.  By day, he is a criminal defense attorney in Reno.  Follow him on Twitter @orrinjohnson, or contact him at orrin@orrinjohnson.com.