The President gave his State of the Union speech this week. As I considered his remarks, I couldn’t help but think of what Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander said the day before, specifically that the U.S. Senate is broken and dysfunctional. It seems to me the “state of the senate” is just a microcosm of the “state of the union.” Here are my thoughts on why I think that is the case.
Most of what passes today for an analysis of our state of the union is a discussion of the different bits and pieces of particular policies and circumstances in our nation – the economy, taxes, immigration, health care, crime, etc.
Where a true analysis begins
However, any true analysis of the state of our union must begin with the acknowledgement that the United States is unique. Unlike other nations, the United States was not founded in the biology of national origin. It was founded, at least in terms of its organizational “birth,” on a set of shared values and ideals.
Those foundational values and ideals were a belief in the “laws of nature and Nature’s God” and, consequently, a belief in the existence of certain rights civil government cannot rightly abridge because they have been “endowed” on us “by our Creator.”
So a true analysis of the state of our union must be given in terms of where we are from where we started.
How are we doing?
With those values as the starting place of analysis, it seems that a majority of Americans are long past believing that God has imposed laws on his creation relative either to man’s behavior or to civil government. A majority may give lip service to such beliefs, but our actions prove otherwise.
For example, regarding behavior, the abandonment of our founding values is reflected in the increasingly successful push of a minority of Americans to remove all limits to sexual expression. The extent to which they have been successful is found in the majority’s lack of conviction to oppose them. Convictions flow from what one believes, so a lack of conviction is a tell tale sign of unbelief.
Regarding civil government, there is a widening gap between our founding values and our politics, revealed in the fact that our politics is increasingly becoming little more than an evaluation by party leaders of what “values” will give their party more power than the other. Nowhere is this more clear than in the current discussion of electoral politics among many leaders of a Republican Party that was birthed out of principled convictions about slavery.
The Final Analysis
The true state of our union is that we are losing or have lost the thing that was at the center of our being that held us together – our shared values. It seems that there is no longer a set of values shared by a majority of Americans that can hold us together.
Instead, a love of diversity born out of a confused understanding of tolerance seems to be the only remaining value. But diversity for the sake of diversity leads to chaos and confusion.
For diversity not to spin recklessly out of control into chaos, there must remain some guiding set of shared values at the center. Those values allow us to distinguish between true diversity and chaos. They provide the moral equivalent of the gravitational pull that keeps our earth from spinning into outer space.
The lack of that moral “center” is why the U.S. Senate is broken and dysfunctional. And it is also why the true condition of our state as a nation is not union but growing disunion.
Perhaps a better and more descriptive “state of the union” was penned in 1919 by the poet, William Butler Yeats. This portion of his poem, The Second Coming, seems rather prophetic:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.