I buy, trade, collect, restore, and sell vintage guitars, amplifiers, and other audio equipment like radios and stereos. I’ve been doing it off and on since I was 15, so I’ve had a lot of gear pass through my life and I’ve met a lot of interesting people and made some great friends too.
On a recent trip to Northeast Minneapolis to buy a tube radio, I met an older couple who triggered this writing. Northeast or “Nordeast” as some call it is an interesting neighborhood of mid-century and older homes and buildings. I love a lot about the area as I love a lot of things from that era. The couple’s home was a post-war rambler with a two car garage and an addition. This same home configuration can be found from coast to coast. This one was meticulously maintained from the lawn, flower beds, and garden to the paint and roof. It was obvious that the people who own it pride themselves on keeping it nice and clean and orderly. It wasn’t maintained in a sterile way by others like a wealthier person’s estate might be. The older couple did it and did it well and took obvious pride in it. The personal touches made that clear. It was a home rather than a house or simply property.
We scheduled a time to meet and when I arrived the radio that I wanted to buy was sitting on a table next to a nice arrangement of outdoor furniture that was probably from the 1960’s or 70’s judging by the construction and decoration of it. It, like the house, was clean and well maintained. The wife was waiting for me and came out to meet me when I got out of the car. She greeted me with a wave and smile before putting on her mask and reminding me to do the same. She told me all about the radio and we had a nice conversation about old radios and the neighborhood that lasted for about fifteen minutes with her husband also joining in at the end. They were baby boomers and stereotypical Nordeasters from my experience of living in, working near, and visiting the neighborhood over the years. They invited me into the back yard to see their garden and I ended up buying two radios from them. They were friendly, polite, kind, and decent people and spending just a few minutes with them brought me back to the 70’s and 80’s and reminded me of how different people and life are now.
Often times, when I go to look at something off Craigslist or some other platform, the people want to meet in a public place rather than at their house. The last person I met with wanted to meet at a police station for safety reasons. Sometimes the people don’t show up. Sometimes the items are misrepresented. Often, the people seem nervous or suspicious. The older couple were none of these things, for good or bad, but meeting them made me miss the past. Of course things weren’t perfect in the past as they’ve never been perfect anywhere or ever. But, in my experience, it was generally better in most ways. Of course there were aspects of our past that were terrible or simply unfair or annoying, but again I would say that it was generally better than the current state.
The Problems with America:
Why? Why do most things seem to get worse rather than better for the average person? I believe I have a good answer for that and I believe that we all shoulder part of the blame for it too. Yes, you and I are part of the problem, my fellow Americans. Health care costs along with taxes continually go up while wages and consumer buying power goes down. Your fault. Discrimination based on race, gender, age, religion, or a variety of other distinctions persists. Again, you. Violence and suicide are still major problems. You and me, bud. Should we add immigration issues, pandemics, education struggles, or the ever rising cost of living to the list? What about child abuse and human trafficking? Drug and alcohol abuse? You and I have helped to cause all of this and here is the best part: Without the intervention of aliens or a higher power, you and I are the only ones who can fix it.
The problems are obviously plentiful and the solutions are few in modern America. Even fewer are the people who are willing to get involved to solve said problems. I’m not going waste your time listing or discussing our problems any further because it leads to the blame game and the childish sport of finger pointing.
I am going to ask you to make a short list for yourself of what you see as the biggest problems in America today and I’m going to challenge you to argue that the answer to these problems that I’m going to propose wouldn’t take a large step toward fixing them. Read that again if you’re not clear on what I’m asking. Test your top problems with America against the plan that I’m going to propose and see what you think. I don’t think you’re going to like it and I also think that you’ll probably forget it soon after reading about it if you haven’t stopped reading already, but I also think that, like eating your broccoli, you’re going to need to swallow it to be healthy. Uncle Sam and lady Liberty need a big serving of broccoli at this point and regardless of how tough it is to swallow, I believe it is the only way for America to be healthy again and make the fabled American Dream attainable for all.
The Solution to our common woes:
I believe that America is a formula that works. It took less than 200 years for America to become the most powerful and prosperous nation the world has ever seen. How did our ancestors do it?
(Many folks today get upset and sidetracked at this point by talking about the mistakes and terrible injustices of our ancestors without remembering their accomplishments or realizing that things like slavery, genocide, and the subjugation of women still persist all over the world. In fact, some of our “allies” are the biggest offenders and human rights violators. In America, those problems are mostly relics of the past. Is it productive to flog America for the sins of the past? I believe it is not. Correct it as much as possible and move forward.)
The idea of America, or the formula that works, is a combination of freedom, personal responsibility, and a common set of values. Our nation was founded for the purpose of granting religious and economic freedom to its citizens and the common values held by the colonists and early Americans are what bound them to and made the whole idea of America work. Those values were Christian values in the beginning of America and they worked well as the glue to hold our union together.
Note: This isn’t a sermon or plea for you to accept Jesus, by the way. I am a Christian by my own definition, but I have a lot of thoughts about the state of Christianity today and they’re not much different than the way I view our state and federal governments. It’s broken, in short, and it makes me want to puke as much or more than our political situation. As much as I personally believe in God, I don’t think you have to believe in a higher power or be a devoted Christian to have integrity, be a good person, or share the type of common values that make you a good citizen and benefit the nation. Please keep that in mind.
Government in its simplest for just means control or regulation. You govern your own life to one degree of success or another. A family is another type of government. A town, county, state, or nation is the same on a larger scale. And, no unit of government can exist without common values. A marriage has common values called vows and when those shared values or agreements are breached the marriage is usually destroyed. Any relationship, business, rock band, club, circus, or any other organization that can’t agree on a core set of values cannot stay together, function, or prosper. Common values are the answer to unity and give any organization direction. This is why companies have mission statements.
My proposal is that the majority of Americans do not hold a rational set of common values at this point and that is why our country is dissolving and our situation as common Americans continues to erode. I believe the simple answer to this problem is to return to the values of the past. The golden rule. Common decency. Common sense. Hard work. Honesty. Integrity.
In embracing these common values, societal and generational thinking needs to replace selfish individualism. Why would you plant a tree that you will not live long enough to see grow to maturity? Someone in a previous generation planted the mature trees that you enjoy and breathe oxygen from today. You attend schools that someone sacrificed to build. You read books that someone labored to write. Your mother gave birth to you at great cost to herself. We enjoy the freedom that men and women died to give us from the revolution against King George by the colonists through the Civil War that ended slavery, two World Wars, and countless conflicts since. Why would all of those people have sacrificed their time, their dreams and desires, some of the best years of their lives, their health, and their very lives to plant those trees, build those schools, have those children, and even die for the idea of America? America a great idea and it was and is worth the sacrifice. Those common values gave it to us and the loss of those values is taking it away from us. The resurgence of those values in you and me along with us passing them along to the following generations is what will renew it.
Babies, naturally and for obvious reasons, only think of themselves, but the natural order of things is for a person to grow up and by a combination of training and nurturing to outgrow that selfishness and become a physically and emotionally mature adult. We need to grow up and stop being selfish, self-centered babies who need to be taken care of by the government or anyone else. It’s called personal responsibility and freedom. Stop thinking of only yourself and start thinking of how to sustain the good things that our ancestors made and help the next generation to keep that momentum going. We are standing on the shoulders of the men and women who came before us and we need to teach the next generation to keep climbing rather than making it acceptable for them to crawl back into the crib. They need to become mature adults rather than just “adulting” now and then only when they absolutely have to.
As a nation, we’ve allowed this slide to happen. Nixon resigned for crimes far smaller than the many following Presidents have committed. Why? The nation would not have tolerated his crimes. He would have been impeached. I think of some of Bill Clinton’s actions as president which disgusted me and I think of some of Trump’s actions which also disgust me. Many of them are the same, but it has become acceptable to many people as long as the offender represents your party or position. It was Bill Clinton’s private life, the Democrats shouted when the Republicans wanted to hang him. Now those same Democrats want to hang Trump for similar offenses, deny one of his Supreme Court nominees for similar accusations, and endorse Biden to be the next President as he’s being accused of similar offenses. They scream about Trump’s pardons while remaining silent about Obama’s record number of pardons. The Republicans are no better and the majority of both parties are unfit for office in my opinion. Why? They lack integrity. Integrity would say that wrong is wrong regardless of who the offender is. Partisan Washington does not believe wrong is wrong because they lack integrity on the whole. They lack the common values that created and sustained America into the last century. Why are we offered leaders who are set up to fail and harm us collectively because they can’t even govern themselves let alone a company or nation? We must demand better and we must be better.
Today I was flicked off in traffic. A woman was going well under the speed limit and I pulled over to pass her. She sped up after I passed her and honked and flicked me off as I pulled over in front of her. There was plenty of room until she sped up to cut me off. This type of behavior confuses me. Also, I usually drive 5-7 miles over the speed limit and in the last decade I’ve gone from being one of the faster cars to being one of the slower. I get tailgated, flicked off, and have high beams flashed at me for not speeding enough. This also confuses me, but I believe it also illustrates the change in attitudes we’re experiencing. I’m suddenly wrong or bad for not doing what the other driver wants me to do, in these cases. Years ago, the lawbreaker was the problem and now the law follower has become the problem to many. You’re slowing me down! You’re in my way! Just like social media, the car is enough insulation for the shouting, flicking off, and other rage to safely come out without any real consequences for the baby who is throwing the tantrum. But, what’s going on with the guy in the other car? Did he just come from the hospital where his wife or child died? Did she get fired or diagnosed with cancer today? Is there something wrong with their car? Or, do you just call them an idiot and fly past? If we shared some common values and gave even the slightest thought for the other person, maybe we could grow up a little and get away from some of the childish temper tantrums and playground behavior that we see all around us.
A larger and sadder example played out for us in Minneapolis as the righteous protests for the killing of George Floyd became riots and anarchy. Looting. Burning. Murder. Destruction. Another temper tantrum. More rage. Another lost opportunity to grow up and make a lasting change for the better. And now, as in the past, the tragic situation is being used by unethical people to push changes on society that will continue to victimize the very people who called for the change. Tear the monuments down, forget your history, and in your immaturity you’ll become the very thing that you’re supposedly protesting against. The names and groups change, but racism and injustice and violence continue.
My son and his girlfriend got overcharged at Applebee’s a while back. His friend got undercharged by the same server. My son questioned the bill and the server apologized and recalculated it wrong the second time also. This time, it was too low. He tried to get her to fix it again and paid something close to the correct amount. His friend paid his bill and left. They came over to my place afterwards and we were talking about it. I pointed out that his friend had stolen from the restaurant and it made him mad. He said that the restaurant had made the mistake and that was their problem and, anyway, they were a big corporation that screwed everyone over and they deserved to get screwed once in a while too. I argued that he had ordered the food for a certain cost which he knew upfront and agreed to pay for it by ordering it. The ethical thing would have been to point out the error and pay for it. This same logic applies to your taxes, a payroll error at work, or seeing a bag of money fall out of an armored car at the bank. Do you steal or do you follow your agreement as a citizen or employee? What are the consequences of taking the money that doesn’t belong to you? It’s stealing, for sure, but it also has to come from someone else. Your gain is someone’s loss and there are consequences for them. If you complain about politicians and large corporations ripping people off, you’re against stealing and fraud and abuse too. If you do the same thing on a smaller scale, you’re no different.
We ridicule and blame churches, politicians, corporations, celebrities, lawyers, educators, and others for the problems in our country, but all of those institutions are made up of individuals like us that are choosing to act with integrity or not. They’re all just little governments run by people like us. Our families, churches, corporations, and governments will change when we start making the right choices in all of our roles in these organizations.
No person or party is going to save America or fix our problems. You are. We the People are the answer and we are the only ones that can fix and preserve the idea of America. It starts with going back to the common values that we started with. This doesn’t mean following a religion, it means having integrity and maturity and taking responsibility for yourself and thinking of future generations as well. The formula works if we’ll do it. We must do it. The America that we are all honored to live in cannot survive without it.
Alexis de Tocqueville said “America is great because America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.” He was a famous 19th century French statesman, historian, and social philosopher. He traveled to America in the 1830’s to discover the reasons for the incredible success of this new nation. He published his observations in his two-volume work, Democracy in America. I couldn’t agree more with his observation and I hope you can also see that it’s true.
Which of America’s problems would not be helped or ended if the majority of the individuals in this nation had good integrity and tried to do the right thing? None of them. It would transform America. Nothing is perfect and there will always be problems, but having and following these common values will go a long way toward making America a country that we can all feel safe and happy to live in.
Regardless of your political or religious affiliation or lack thereof, I hope you can agree with me that the way forward in America is to unite under the common values that made America the most powerful and influential nation on Earth. If we adopt the failed practices of other nations or revert to our own failures and the mistakes of the past, we are truly ignorant since we have so many examples of the outcomes. The American formula works if we will follow it.