One hundred ninety-nine years ago on Saturday, Francis Scott Key penned the words from our National Anthem, The Star Spangled Banner. In doing that, not only did he create a poem that would become the anthem of a nation 117 years later but he penned some of the most quoted words in our country, “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” But do we still live in the that land? The War on Terror caused our government to make some serious changes to then current policy in order to “protect us from terrorists” and those powers our government now holds continue to get stronger and more invasive with every administration. Please don’t get me wrong, I think there are certain actions our government should be taking to protect us as citizens but when will this culture of fear to subside. The attitude after September 11, 2001 has been more of fear than proactive protection (which is what we are told to believe is motivating our governments actions) and I think this fear that drives our government to seek more power without questioning has led us to do the same in our personal lives. It has been twelve years. Will we let this go on another twelve/twenty/a hundred years.
I worry about what this attitude is doing to us as Americans and how this has affected the American Dream. I feel like our fear of the foreign other has developed into our fear of the local other. As the government takes more power over our rights to freedom we attempt, in fear, to take power back by protecting ourselves and our families from each other. The most obvious way I have seen this happen is with our public assistance programs. In generations past we were quick to help those in need and did so as communities. With this new culture, we not only hoard our personal resources but we defend it by demonizing those we should be reaching out to the most. The days of communities banding together to help one another are gone. Most of us don’t even know the names of our direct neighbors. Where we used to help each other, now we sit back as rumors fly around about those on assistance that are demoralizing. If you have spent any time with anyone on government assistance you will see hard working people who need help not a handout. The possibility of attaining the american dream and climbing the income ladder varies in different parts of the country but it is difficult everywhere in this economy. Hardworking people everywhere continue to slip farther into poverty and become even more less likely to get out.
It has also reared its ugly head in our views on immigration which is almost universally fear based. What about our demonization of Muslims? Or the great divide between political parties. How has our fear manifested itself in the battle of the sexes? Our seemingly nonchalant attitude towards the VIOLENCE that is rape and sexual assault? Our denying women access to birth control yet outlawing abortion? The list goes on and on but the constant in this is our culture of fear. Fear is a powerful motivator, maybe the most powerful motivator. How do we turn the tides of our fear and become hopeful again. Are we attempting to change this culture or are we fueling it by stereotyping those on the other side of the political/gender/religion/whatever divide?
So is the American Dream still possible? How does our continued loss of control over our government feed into our fear of each other? What can we do to fix it and where do we start? I love being an American and I love the idea that people come here to escape persecution and make for themselves a better life, but I am not sure that is true anymore. I am afraid for the world we are leaving for my daughter. I don’t know how to protect my hope for her future when I am barely able to protect mine.