Jimmy Carter was slightly premature when he called for an examination of American priorities in the 1970s. At the time we still stood as the bastion against Soviet domination. World powers still played on a game board set up by World War II and argued over ideologies that had peaked in the 1930s.
When the Soviet Union -- for various reasons -- finally collapsed as the 1990s came upon us, we enjoyed a period of celebration. But no one has a good idea what to do next. The massive adversaries and threat of global destruction that brought not only fear but stability have gone away.
We still risk global destruction. We still live on a globe populated by a paranoid species that can't seem to outgrow conflict. But in a dawning human consciousness that war really isn't the answer, a couple of superpowers grinding together like tectonic plates is no longer an acceptable scenario. Our enemies are the enemies of peaceful freedom, but they are dispersed. Their motives are diverse. Their resources are limited, yet they are theoretically capable of ending everything. No fortress will withstand them because they can walk through walls by projecting their philosophies into the receptive troubled minds of people already inside.
If our goal is to preserve the geographical entity of the United States and to keep its flag flying no matter what goes on beneath it we may continue to spy on our own citizens and use more police forces to send more people to more prisons. Bit by bit we turn into the kind of repressive regime we said we staunchly opposed throughout our history. But we still exist...technically.
Extremists destroy our system of government from within and without. Whether they're on the "right" or the "left" doesn't really matter. It's their inflexible adherence to their positions that causes the strain. Foreign enemies gather their followers based on their own various grievances. At least some of the grievances may be legitimate, even if their choice of remedy won't really help. Domestic agitators attack the government claiming that its destruction will purify it and free the ordinary citizens from the red tape and tax bills that keep them from succeeding. Benevolent billionaires who could pay their employees a lot more right now are instead financing this revolution, this economic civil war. Why have none of their mob asked them for a raise instead of just writing semi literate signs and waving the flags of sedition?
We have nothing for which to unite. The rich tell us our enemy is our own government. Our government fights with itself over whether to tax the rich who have accumulated far more than a reasonable share of the nation's wealth. Genuine enemies from foreign lands send not only their stealthy fighters but their own ideas to inspire susceptible Americans to join their fight. We are a nation splintering. What can stop it? In the past we have only united in the face of a common threat. We would temporarily put aside internal squabbles, gloss over our own ugliness and turn our phalanx toward the enemy. Those are short-term solutions to a long-term problem.
The solution to the long-term problem is nowhere near as exciting as a good war. Our long term problem really is a malaise, a human condition residing in every individual. It can only be fought alone, even with a support group. The question we have to answer is, "are we better together?"
I think our next national mission may be therapy.