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America has been a force for good, most of the time, for its history. If we don’t celebrate it, we will lose it. Tyranny encroaches.
For at least 70 years, America has been the preeminent diplomatic, informational, military, and economic power on earth. By and large, we have used our power for good. After World War II, we did not demand land, establish colonies, or institute an international economic system intended to make America richer. We opposed communism in all its forms, and tried to spread democracy, freedom, peace, and prosperity throughout the world. It is difficult to find another such example of benevolence in history. The British endeavored to improve the world as they understood it, but still accumulated colonies, acquired territories, and tilted the economic playing field in their favor. The Ottomans, the Mughals, the Mongols, the Arabs, the Romans, the Chinese, and other empire builders were not so munificent. The United States made mistakes, supporting dictators in an effort to stop communism, which we considered a greater evil. But internationally and overall, America has been a force for good.
Domestically, we have been equally idealistic. The reforms of the 1960s, from Johnson’s Great Society to the Civil Rights Act, have been attempts to right wrongs. The subsequent 60 years has been an attempt to right more wrongs, and correct problems in the fixes that we implemented earlier. America has been a force for good. And yet we take no joy in our successes. Instead, many Americans, especially younger ones, wish to hand more and more power to the government. They deny our victories and focus on our failures. They want socialism.
What does a nation look like when God is not there? Or at least when its people live like God is absent.
Events in the world and in America have taken a dark turn at many levels in 2021. The COVID epidemic rages on, though natural and vaccine-related herd immunity is increasing. Political divisions, riots, and even hatred, continue at levels unseen since the American Civil War. False accusations fly without regard for the truth and without considering different perspectives. People and organizations lock down to protect themselves at all costs, and sacrifice individuals regardless of prior contributions or future potential.
Governments, all governments, are established under God by the will of the people, although not necessarily all the people. They have specific and limited purposes. Governments cannot and should not try to do everything for everyone.
Democracies, in which each eligible voter selects their favored candidate for each office in a fair process, most visibly follow the will of the people. Dictatorships, however, also require popular support. Saddam Hussein used Sunni Baathists to place him in power and keep him there. As a result, he provided choice government positions to his loyal followers, favored friendly companies with government contracts, and then leaned on the recipients to keep their people in line. Simultaneously, Hussein ensured that Sunni Muslims, though a minority in Iraq, received more consistent electrical power, better services, and more opportunities than the majority Shia Muslims received. Had Hussein not cultivated powerful supporters, he would have fallen. A careful or even cursory study of Mao, Stalin, Hitler, Napoleon, and other dictators throughout time and space shows the same thing. No man is powerful enough to rule a nation alone; he must have help from the people to gain power and keep it.
Statues are coming down all over America, some in a raging mob amidst political pandering, and others with government-directed construction crews. Few memorials are coming down after calm debates and reasoned decisions. Why do we have such statues in the first place? Which ones is it appropriate to remove? Which not?
The mass killing of Jews and other “undesirables” by Nazi Germany during the Holocaust (1939-1945) was one of the worst crimes in modern history. The Holocaust spilled oceans of blood, and its cruelty was beyond imagination. Concentration camps like Auschwitz in Poland and memorials and museums in places like Berlin and Washington DC educate current and future generations on what happened in the hopes that such an atrocity will never occur again.
In our ongoing study of Lincoln’s words to the Young Men’s Lyceum in Springfield, IL on 27 January 1838, we have briefly examined some of the amazing blessings of America. These include her geography, her resources, her development, and her political institutions. Most people throughout history have been crushed by the boot of tyranny, from Argentina to Japan to Zimbabwe. Even today in China, Russia, Turkey, and many other nations, the light of liberty is flickering, or has gone out. The American people, working through brilliantly conceived and enduring political institutions, have lived in freedom, limited primarily by their own industry and imagination.
We have also discussed the men and women who made the United States the amazing country that it is. As heirs to their wisdom and to their labors, we must be grateful. As heirs to their folly and mistakes, we must be humble, because it is not clear that we are any wiser, or any more industrious, than they were. Looking at the United States today, one wonders if we are not greater fools and greater sluggards. Those who cast aside the Greek democracy and the Roman Republic thought they were building better societies.
Today we must explore Lincoln’s next passage, asking where the danger to America would come.
Showing gratitude to our fathers for American government is a good idea for us today
“We, when mounting the stage of existence, found ourselves the legal inheritors of these fundamental blessings. We toiled not in the acquirement or establishment of them–they are a legacy bequeathed us, by a once hardy, brave, and patriotic, but now lamented and departed race of ancestors. Their’s was the task (and nobly they performed it) to possess themselves, and through themselves, us, of this goodly land; and to uprear upon its hills and its valleys, a political edifice of liberty and equal rights; ’tis ours only, to transmit these, the former, unprofaned by the foot of an invader; the latter, undecayed by the lapse of time and untorn by usurpation, to the latest generation that fate shall permit the world to know. This task of gratitude to our fathers, justice to ourselves, duty to posterity, and love for our species in general, all imperatively require us faithfully to perform.”
The first in a multi-part series of commentaries on Abraham Lincoln’s speech at Lyceum.
“We find ourselves in the peaceful possession, of the fairest portion of the earth, as regards extent of territory, fertility of soil, and salubrity of climate. We find ourselves under the government of a system of political institutions, conducing more essentially to the ends of civil and religious liberty, than any of which the history of former times tells us.”
How many of us consider the blessings of being American?
The dangers of making decisions too quickly, with too little information, or with too much emotion.
The Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, Dr. Tom Price, was forced to resign after revelations that he took charted civilian and military aircraft on trips that were of debatable value to the US taxpayer. The price tag was over $400,000 for the civilian flights and about $500,000 for the military airlift. Since his tenure in office was about eight months (10 February to 29 September 2017), Price spent over $100,000 per month for these flights alone; seemingly an impressive rate of burning taxpayer money. This appears to be prima facie evidence of corruption, or at least rank insensitivity to the needs and resources of the American people.
Price is not the only one. According to the New York Times, Secretary Ryan Zinke (Interior), Administrator Scott Pruitt (EPA), Secretary David Shulkin (VA), Secretary Steven Mnuchin (Treasury), and others also garnered criticism for flights from Las Vegas to Europe. These accusations are serious, as public service is a public trust and leaders must act with discretion. Several of these Cabinet members protested that they followed proper procedures, and they may have, but the damage remains. In this time of enormous Federal deficits, and national debts, leaders must not only be squeaky clean; they must appear squeaky clean.
As Donald Trump prepares to assume the presidency, media outlets are aflutter with his nominees for Cabinet positions, and office seekers are glued to telephones calling for Executive Branch jobs. Amidst the tumult, President-elect Trump should soon consider another job that must be filled. It is less powerful than many cabinet positions, but often high profile. It deals not with bombs or buildings but with health and humanity. With Ebola just behind us, and who-knows-what disease disaster just ahead of us, this job is crucial. Donald Trump must select the next Surgeon General (SG) of the United States.
C. Everett Koop (1916-2013, SG 1982-1989) had recently retired as the Surgeon General when I graduated from the Loma Linda University School of Medicine in 1991. He was our commencement speaker, and his words shaped my thoughts as a young doctor. This article will review the job of Surgeon General, and consider some attributes that have made recent Surgeons General successful. Many have served as acting Surgeon General since the post tends to be low on Presidential appointment priority lists, but we will only consider the appointed office holders here.
Is America exceptional, different in important ways from all other nations in the world? Is it better? If so, how?
Last month my sons and I were discussing some of the early commentary on the 2016 Presidential Campaign. One of them asked my opinion on American Exceptionalism. I had not given it much thought, but spent some time considering the issue because I always try to have a reasoned answer for those I care about.
The 20th century was one of superlatives, both good and bad. The invention of the airplane, the landing on the moon and the advances in medicine, communication, and in almost every field of science were breathtaking. People today live longer, healthier and more productive and secure lives than ever before. Unfortunately, the utter devastation of modern warfare, the oppression and murder of millions, and the falling away of whole cultures from the truths of God are also breathtaking. People live under the constant shadow of mass destruction and a lonely, materialistic worldview that drains the humanity out of man.
Our acrimonious political debates often center on class struggle, those who “have” against those who “have not.” Perhaps the conflict is really between those who “do”, who contribute to wider society, and those who “do not,” who take without giving.
The 2012 Presidential Election campaign is in its final weeks, and while one candidate seems to relish contrasting the “haves and have nots”, the other candidate recently implied that the real division is between the “do and do nots.” One group seems to boil with resentment against those who they perceive have more than they do. Another group seems to boil with resentment against those who they perceive do less than they do. Is either narrative accurate? Are both narratives accurate but incomplete? The debate is not limited to candidates or even parties; large swaths of the American population seem to feel the same way. The structure of the human body can shed light on these questions.
The human body is made of billions of cells, the building blocks of life. The cells are fundamentally the same, including parts such as the nucleus, the cytoplasm, the mitochondria, and the cell membrane. There is also diversity amidst the unity, with cells of hundreds of types and functions, including muscle cells, bone cells, hormone secreting cells, nerve cells, skin cells, fat cells, and many others. They are arrayed in a system of incredible complexity, and work together with precision to accomplish the purposes of the body. The human body is a truly magnificent creation.