The Quest For a Collective Conscience in America

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New York, United States © SJ0509

January 15, 2017 19:11 EDT

America will finally begin to realize its promise only when people of conscience stop making excuses for this blighted nation.

The depth of the problem has finally dawned on me. I went into the US presidential election expecting that an ignorant electorate could really get it wrong, and they did. And, since I am not a big fan of America in the first place, another round of America’s failed promise confirmed my perspective rather than dashing my hope. But for many, the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States struck a visceral note not seen in my lifetime. For many liberals who still believed in America’s promise and still thought that there might be a governing center in this nation, the election result ravaged the core of their political souls.

Unfortunately, the America we see today is the America we liberals deserve. We continue to flaunt the unquestioned notions that something special is really going on here and that some god has blessed us all with greatness. How many times, amid the homeless, the uninsured sick, the hungry children and the carnage in the streets, have we heard voices rising from our “leaders” that “this is not who we are”? And then, just to make sure the populace buys it, we almost always get “god bless America” thrown into the intoxicating mix.

Now we are exposed. We are naked without a clue. Many are wandering about as lost souls watching an America captured by a dangerous and ignorant narcissist, leading a band of unprincipled acolytes, seeking to glorify the ugly underbelly of America’s past and present.

The Failed Promise of America

Today’s version of the failed promise of America is the story of the failed promise of my generation and those that followed who understood the promise but got lost in individual excess at the expense of a collective conscience. To reclaim a voice in America, those of us seeking a better America have to first find a better self. Our message will never resonate with anyone else if it doesn’t resonate within.

A good place to start the journey back is the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, DC, a monument to a great man whose words ought to inspire the very best in each of us. With words carved on the north wall of the monument, you can almost hear Dr. King speaking to each of us, even if few are listening: “We must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience” (Montgomery, Alabama, March 25, 1965).

King seemed to know that a nation without a conscience is a delusional nation, a nation that will define its own victories without reference to the losers and the vanquished. He understood what is now obvious—that those without a collective conscience will always be ready to follow those whose promises reek of the distorted truths that individual conscience might otherwise unveil.

Americans revel in their “democratic” institutions, none more so than the ritual every four years of selecting the president, amid much talk of the vote reflecting the will of the people. No mention is made of conscience, either individual or collective. Those whose will has most recently been reflected might wish to try to explain how eliminating a government program that unquestionably extends access to health care in America to millions became the clarion cry of those seeking to make America “great again.” Or how ensuring gun rights somehow is more worthy of support than ensuring human rights. And these are just a couple of noteworthy stops on the apparent journey to recapture past glory.

The trail of tears left in the wake of the will of the people this time around will be long. Those tears are likely to be shed by the poor in America, by the immigrants in America, by those whose skin color doesn’t match the prevailing color or whose faith or lack of faith falls outside a church or synagogue, and by those who identify themselves as something “different.” The trail of tears will reflect what America really has become.


President Barack Obama bid us farewell the other evening, offering the same magic carpet of hope that he rode in on. I hoped with him when he started, but long ago left behind the magic carpet ride. A nation awash in income inequality, gun violence and racial discord at home and continuing its violent crusade abroad failed to board the magic carpet with him. And, to be truthful, a lot in between the first and last sales pitches would suggest that Obama tried to sell us a magic carpet ride that he may never have believed in in the first place.

The task now is to resist, to try to recapture the soul of those with a conscience by igniting collective action. The message is simple: America will finally begin to realize its promise to those living within its borders and will finally stop killing its way to a better world for those living in faraway places only when people of conscience stop making excuses for this blighted nation.

This journey must begin with resistance to every outrage, resistance to every right-wing cabal in our midst, and resistance to the temptation that we can overcome without being willing to fight to overcome. It is the challenge of our time for those with an individual conscience to settle for nothing less than a collective conscience.

*[A version of this article was also featured on Larry Beck’s blog, Hard Left Turn.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Photo Credit: Sj0509

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