Once again America has experienced terrorism at the hands of a radical Muslim extremist. What compounds the tragedy of this mass shooting at an Orlando night club that killed 49 people and injured at least that many more though, is that the evil perpetrator behind this cowardly attack was not some foreign-born jihadi miscreant that snuck through our porous border in order to wage war on “the great Satan” but rather a home-grown citizen who was born in Queens, New York and was raised in Fort Pierce, Florida. This Islamic terrorist was a natural born American.
So how exactly does this American terrorist grow up cheering the 9/11 attack in high school, thinking that women ought not to drive, and swearing allegiance to ISIS? What is it about our society today that even allows this to be a possible outcome of an American life? What has changed in the last few generations that makes such an unimaginably evil thing to even contemplate become a ghoulish reality? Why does someone like Omar Matteen grow up despising his own country of America?
I would submit that part of the problem exists in the fact that not only do we no longer teach objective United States History anymore, but we absolutely do not teach civics and a justified sense of patriotism and honor to our children. We no longer teach American Exceptionalism and how this nation in its relatively short 240-year history has risen from a wild frontier colony of Britain to become the greatest economic, military, and innovative industrial power in the history of the entire human race. Even more importantly, we don’t teach our children how those achievements came to be through a new understanding of liberty and the realization that our rights are not bestowed upon us by some monarch or government, but rather we are endowed with them by our Creator.
Our Founding Fathers, and Thomas Jefferson in particular, fully understood that the American experiment of self-governance would not long survive, let alone flourish, if we did not have a well-educated populace – one that truly understood the virtues of republican self-government, and our duties, both civic and moral, to uphold and protect it.
As the historian Donald Kagan has put it,
“Democracy requires a patriotic education. It does so for two reasons: first, because its success depends upon the active participation of its citizens in their own governance; and second, because without such an education, there would be no way to persuade free individuals of the need to make sacrifices for the sake of the greater good. We now seem to think we can dispense with such an education, and in fact are likely to disparage it reflexively, labelling it a form of propaganda or jingoism… The encouragement of patriotism is no longer a part of our public educational system, and the cost of that omission has made itself felt in a way that would have alarmed and dismayed the founders of our country.”
Indeed this problem has become so rampant that even President Obama does not find anything exceptional about America, or at least no more so than the typical Brit believes about Great Britain or the average Greek believes about Greece. American exceptionalism is nothing more than an anachronistic and amusing notion that seems to have perished with the passing of our parents or grandparents. It was an ideal that was taught in the past along with an “un-enlightened view” of our history.
Today we often still use the radical anti-American Howard Zinn’s book “A People’s History of the United States” which amounts to little more than America-bashing and grievance mongering against the United States. It has sold over 2 million copies since it was first published in 1980 and continues to sell over 100,000 copies a year because it is required reading at many of our high schools and colleges as we continue to indoctrinate our children with all that is wrong with America instead of looking at a balanced historical approach that also examines our greatest human successes, particularly when it comes to securing and advancing our divinely-endowed liberties for all Americans.
Our schools once taught more than just the three R’s. Part of an American education consisted of the schools being actively involved in promoting the values and beliefs that were considered an integral part of the American experience. Without an over-arching belief in American Exceptionalism and an understanding of the individual rights that our republican government was founded to protect, our citizens see America as just another nation – often corrupt and self-serving – among the hundreds of others in the world. We no longer see America as worthy of our protection, sacrifices, and certainly not our love.
Instead, today, we see deep division and hatred of others that are different from us. We are no longer the melting pot where different cultures assimilate into one proud American culture. Today we are a deeply divided collection of various ethnic and special interest groups demanding special favors or dispensations from elected officials which are no longer held accountable to us, nor to America’s founding principles of liberty as articulated in our United States Constitution.
In her first major speech after the horrific terrorist attack in Orlando, Hillary Clinton invoked the following, “E Pluribus Unum, One—Out of Many, One—has seen us through the darkest chapters of our history.” There is precious little upon which I agree with Hillary Clinton, but on this issue she is indeed correct. Republicans and Democrats should absolutely band together under this ideal. Yes, we should still have our policy debates, but at the end of the day we need to realize that each political side still is honestly seeking what they think is best for America and we need not think of those that disagree with our views as necessarily being evil.
We need to return to a sense of one out of many -- a united America with common values and a history that overall we can indeed look to with pride. Indeed, if we do not inculcate and act as examples for our children of America’s exceptionalism, we can be sure that they will no longer feel the need to guard and defend it accordingly. If we leave them with a vacuum by no longer instructing them on American values, then that vacuum will eventually be filled possibly with a far more sinister world view and set of values.
After the horrific attacks on 9/11, we came together as a united people of our American nation for a little while once again. Sadly, this Orlando massacre by an American that did not believe in America has not similarly been a catalyst for national unity. Indeed it has only exposed gaping fissures and very deep divisions in our country today.
If we do not return to instructing our children on American values, American Exceptionalism, rugged individualism that asserts and defends our liberties bestowed upon us by the Author of the Universe, then we can only expect to see more such horrific scenes as some of our children seek to find a belief in something, anything, -- some ideology – however heinous it may be – to fill that vacuum.