If America Is Going Down the Wrong Road, Then Shouldn’t We Turn Back?

This commentary was originally published on July 3, 2008. Is America more “on track” today than it was four years ago?

July 4th is the day we celebrate our independence as a nation. And with this being an election year, politics is on the mind of many … or it soon will be.

But if you look around, it is clear that Americans are uneasy.  We are unsettled.  We are uncertain.  We sense that on our 232nd birthday all is not well.

In fact, we are looking for change.  Change is not what you look for when all is well.  It is not clear what change we are looking for, but there is a growing sense that all is not well and good in America right now.[pullquote3 align=”right” variation=”deepblue” textColor=”#003152″]So, what is the change we need, to make progress as a country, to “get back on track?” Different leaders? Another economic stimulus package?[/pullquote3]

An Associated Press poll conducted in mid-June reported that 76% of Americans believe our country is moving in the wrong direction – the highest number in 30 years.  What is interesting is what people said was the indicator, the evidence, that we are moving in the wrong direction.  Sixty percent pointed to the economy while only twenty-three percent pointed to leadership.

It is striking, in view of the political season we are in, that the vast majority do not see our leadership as the reason we are moving in a wrong direction, though it would seem that for a nation to move in a direction someone must be leading the move.  But perhaps we don’t like to concede it is the quality of our leadership because that indicts us as source of the problem – we elect our leadership.  Not since Eve ate the forbidden fruit has fallen man ever wanted to concede that he is, at root, the cause and source of his own problems.

But it is equally telling that most Americans believe the state of our economy is the evidence that we are moving in a wrong direction.  What this seems to suggest is that economic well-being is now the goal – the American dream – and so much so that the economy is the means by which we determine the “rightness” of the direction in which we are headed as a nation.

So, what is the change we need, to make progress as a country, to “get back on track?”  Different leaders?  Another economic stimulus package?

To answer that question, we first need to know, as a nation, what track we need to be on – what track we got off of – if we’re going to get back on track.

C. S. Lewis said:  “If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.  And I think if you look at the present state of the world, it is pretty plain that humanity has been making some big mistakes. We are on the wrong road. And if that is so, we must go back.  Going back is the quickest way on.”

So, let us look back on the road from which we have come.  And here is just some of what we would find:

  • “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” – John Adams
  • “[C]an the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the Gift of God?” – Thomas Jefferson
  • “We ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained.” – George Washington

Perhaps our problem isn’t economic.   Abraham Lincoln, at another point in America’s history when all was not well, said it this way, and perhaps today it bears repeating:

We have been recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious Hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own….[W]e have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.

So, while we celebrate our nation’s independence, let us not confuse national independence with our nation’s independence from God.  For, as the Psalmist said, “if the foundations be destroyed, what will the righteous do?”