In past columns I have often referred to a 1979 speech by President Jimmy Carter, where he said, “There was a fundamental threat to American democracy that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will.” He called this threat “a crisis of confidence.” This crisis of confidence to which he referred was the broad, growing disrespect for our government, churches, media, schools and other social institutions by Americans.
There is a lot going on with our major institutions to cause a crisis of confidence or plain ole loss of faith in 2008. The list is long, ranging from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, failed and corrupt corporations and financial institutions, schools that don’t teach, politicians too busy having illicit affairs and not governing, and, of course, the economy. So with the current Wall Street crisis, I thought I would dust off Carter’s quote and use it again.
Until America sets it’s house in order and changes the fundamental way we approach all of our national affairs from politics to the economy, I will continue to resurrect this quote. But, you should know, I have a different spin on it today. My spin today is about two institutions that should never fail or cause us to lose faith in their vigilance and concern about what is happening in our society.
The first institution is the Media. Who are the guys that cover Wall Street? Where were they when this crisis was developing? Hey! Some major financial institutions have gone under. Surely this did not happen overnight. I find it hard to believe that some reporter from some major daily or news show was not aware of this. We can understand why the appropriate government agencies and officials were unaware or ignored what was happening. But, the media is the institution we rely upon for truth and to shed light into those dark areas.
Now the second institution is our “National Will”. How active and engaged have we been in demanding more from and questioning the institutions that we have sacredly entrusted with the important affairs of our society? Are we doing what we should to ensure accountability? That’s the key here. We have to be doggedly vigilant of the caretakers of our national affairs. If we are not, then we will have failures at all levels from the White House to Capitol Hill and Wall Street. And, even in the classrooms.
So, if we want our great American Institutions to be moral, just, and honest, we have to realize that they can be no greater than what we demand of them and allow them to do. Frederick Douglas said, “The moral growth of a great nation requires reflection, as well as observation.”