A connected America must be a civil America

"America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, ‘cause it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say ‘You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.’"
— Michael Douglas’ title character in the movie “The American President”


Two-thirds of Americans in a new poll say America is more divided than it was four years ago.

Here’s one reason.

Beloved pro football coach Tony Dungy, a gentleman if there ever was one, has been absolutely pilloried this week for admitting in an interview that he wouldn’t have drafted the National Football League’s first openly gay player, “Not because I don’t believe Michael Sam should have a chance to play, but I wouldn’t want to deal with all of it.”

After a fierce social media backlash, Dungy added that his objection wouldn’t be Sam’s sexual orientation, but the media circus that would result.

It’s an odd statement, to be sure, from a black coaching pioneer whose predecessors endured worse. But the firestorm kind of proves his point about today’s media vortex — and validates the poll that cites America’s deepening divisions.

Look, diversity of opinion is one of America’s great strengths. But it might as easily be the end of us, if we let it. If America is to thrive, or even endure, we’ve got to give each other a little more elbow room when it comes to opinions and thinking. It’s not just the civil thing to do, it’s the American way.

As Michael Douglas’ movie character so eloquently asserted, “Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.’”

Tony Dungy didn’t even come close to doing that, and look at the firestorm that encircled him. We need to ease up on each other. An increasingly connected America must also be a civil America.

Orwell’s idea of the Thought Police involved the government. He overlooked the horrifying possibility that we could be the thought cops ourselves.

— Michael Ryan, Executive Director, ROAR

Can we get a little love here?

It may not be a coincidence that “America” sounds an awful lot like “A miracle.”

After several thousand years in which most human beings were under the thumb of kings, princes, potentates and despots — as many are still today — an oasis of freedom emerged called America.

It took an ocean voyage and required much suffering, a bloody and risky revolution, and several centuries of trial and error, but mankind finally established a beachhead for liberty.

Inspired by their own experiences, by the great writings of history, by the Bible, and undoubtedly by God, America’s founders set out on a grand experiment of self-governance.

Her critics, foreign and domestic, dwell almost exclusively and obsessively on America’s warts. The media and academia often do so as well, tragically tainting youths’ views of this great land they were so blessed to be born in or brought to. What else in life is defined only by its imperfections? How is that possibly fair?

Nor are America’s shortcomings fairly compared to other places on the globe; instead, they’re generally put up against the ideal, an image of perfection no nation could match.

While acknowledging her flaws forthrightly, may we be as candid in citing her greatness. Surely we all can admit the blessings of liberty, equality, rule of law, opportunity and more. Surely our history of immigration — they’re swamping the southern border as you read this — is evidence enough. They are, as the song says, coming to America.

What is the percentage of people in human history who have lived free? It’s not large; it might be as small as 4 percent or less.

America is, indeed, a miracle.

Yet, the 364 days between each Fourth of July we hear more criticism of this country than praise or gratitude. Why is that? It’s one thing to show tough love, but how can that much self-loathing be healthy?

Abraham Lincoln called America “the last best hope of Earth.” We sure have a funny way of showing it sometimes.

— Michael Ryan, Executive Director, ROAR

P.S. — I highly recommend Dinesh D’Souza’s new movie “America — Imagine the World Without Her.” It’s refreshing for the old girl to get a little love for a change.

National borders? They go with the territory!

Contrary to the way some spin it, it’s not racist or elitist for a country to have borders. Borders are inherent in even having a country. It goes with the territory.

In fact, every country that we know of has them. And most control their borders better than we do.

It’s the most fundamental mission of a government. Why? Well, in the case of free countries, it’s in order to protect the right of the citizens within to create the kind of country they want.

Every country has its own laws and its own customs, traditions and culture. Any self-respecting nation would do at least the minimum to protect and preserve those laws, customs, traditions and culture.

It’s not at all mean to do it. It’s self-preservation and, again, self-respect. Nor is it mean or hateful to expect others to respect those borders, laws, customs, traditions and culture.

Neither is it xenophobic (hateful of foreigners) — which is the usual slur used to promote unfettered migration and open borders. Fact is, respecting national borders is the OPPOSITE of xenophobic; it’s the only way to ensure that the French stay French, the German stay German and so on.

Vive la différence! Variety is the spice of life, and our national cultural differences are delicious.

Foreign cultures — the language, the foods, the music, the traditions — are worth protecting. Your own is worth protecting too. And the only way to protect them is through limited, legal migration that allows for assimilation.

Nor is it compassionate to allow or even encourage and reward mass illegal immigration. It’s dangerous and often fatal to the immigrants, hazardous for host nations and sadly debilitating for those émigrés who fail to learn their new cultures and languages. It’s also quite corrosive to the rule of law.

Every country has borders. And there’s every reason for it.

— Michael Ryan, Executive Director, ROAR

Stepping into the leadership vacuum

Dinesh D’Souza’s new movie is titled “America: Imagine the World Without Her.”

We may not HAVE to imagine it. Like George Bailey in the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life,” America may be seeing what the world would be like without her.

In the absence of America’s historical moral and military leadership, and lacking unambiguous statements and bold actions by our leaders, we’re seeing slaughter in Syria and Ukraine, war between Israel and Hamas, dangerous mass migration by minors in Central America and more.

While some here are embarrassed by American exceptionalism — the divinely inspired system of self-governance our Founders willed to us that has made America preeminent in human affairs — it is nonetheless a force for good in the world. It is a foundation for stability in an otherwise helter-skelter world.

Without American might and right, ne’er—do-wells, despots and tyrants feel emboldened to seize territory, oppress their own peoples and kill and confine others.

You needn’t claim sides politically to see that this world needs a strong, secure America — one that is not ashamed to be strong and secure, nor overly reluctant to intervene for peace, freedom and the protection of innocents.

No, we can’t be the world’s police, and ours is a war-weary nation. But we at least ought to fill the leadership vacuum so evident in today’s headlines.

In our absence, there are others who are happy to do it for us. And they’re not always the best sort.

— Michael Ryan, Executive Director, ROAR

Over the course of 10 days, ROAR.us is counting down the Top 10 things we can all do to help strengthen America.

July 4: No. 1: Be an informed, active citizen
July 7: No. 2: Be civil and kind
July 8: No. 3: Have a healthy lifestyle
July 9: No. 4: Decide what you believe and act on it
July 10: No. 5:Take responsibility for your life and your actions
July 11: No. 6: Be your brother’s keeper
July 14: No. 7: Be the best family member, neighbor and friend you can possibly be
July 15: No. 8: Hold your elected representatives accountable
July 16: No. 9: Be as self-reliant as you can
Today: No. 10: Be a model of unity to others

America seems more divided today than at anytime in most of our lives — racially, politically and even financially.

The numbers show it.

Some half a century after King’s “I have a dream” speech and three years after the ascendancy of the first black president, a Newsweek/Daily Beast poll in 2012 said 72 percent of whites and 89 of blacks think the country is divided by race.

Pew Research Center recently said the percentage of Republicans and Democrats who hold consistently conservative and liberal views, respectively, has risen in each case from about 5 percent to about 20. In other words, about 40 percent of the country is fairly cemented in its views.

As for class and income, Pew wrote late last year that income disparity “has reached levels not seen since 1928.”

Airing differing beliefs is one thing; it has always made America strong. But intolerance toward others’ beliefs — boycotting, trying to silence others, etc. — is quite another.

Our differences and diversity, long a chief virtue, could easily become the nation’s Achilles’ heel.

"Will America remain one nation, or are we are on the road to Balkanization and the breakup of America into ethnic enclaves?" asks columnist Patrick Buchanan.

It’s a good question. The answer depends on our dedication to unity and our tolerance for opposing views.

Unity doesn’t mean unanimity; there’s plenty of room for disagreement in a United States. But let’s decide to make America stronger. Debate, fiercely. But let’s at least agree to disagree civilly, dial down the rhetoric, and quit pitting one group against another.

May we be one nation, under God, indivisible.

— Michael Ryan, Executive Director, ROAR

Top 10 ways to help America: No. 9: Be self-reliant

Over the course of 10 days, ROAR.us is counting down the Top 10 things we can all do to help strengthen America.

July 4: No. 1: Be an informed, active citizen
July 7: No. 2: Be civil and kind
July 8: No. 3: Have a healthy lifestyle
July 9: No. 4: Decide what you believe and act on it
July 10: No. 5:Take responsibility for your life and your actions
July 11: No. 6: Be your brother’s keeper
July 14: No. 7: Be the best family member, neighbor and friend you can possibly be
July 15: No. 8: Hold your elected representatives accountable
Today: No. 9: Be as self-reliant as you can

"America is increasingly moving away from a nation of self-reliant individuals, where civil society flourishes, toward a nation of individuals less inclined to practicing self-reliance and personal responsibility."
— 2013 Index of Dependence on Government

America can’t go on like this much longer. The math alone says that.

Nearly half the population doesn’t pay a dime in federal income taxes. Some 47 million are on food stamps. And astoundingly, the Census Bureau reported last year that the growing group of means-tested benefit recipients has surpassed the number of full-time workers who support them.

The math alone will dictate an end to all this — hopefully before a collapse of the currency and economy.

But government dependence is not just a math crisis; it’s a humanitarian one. Tragically, it prevents untold numbers of Americans from realizing their God-given potential as human beings.

"Government programs not only crowd out civil society, but too frequently trap individuals and families in long-term dependence, leaving them incapable of escaping their condition for generations to come," says the Heritage Foundation’s 2013 Index of Dependence on Government.

This is why America is losing the longest war it’s ever fought — the war on poverty.

Most of us need a hand every now and then, and Americans are the first to give it — happily. But the goal — for the country, for federal programs and for every individual — should be self-reliance to every extent possible.

Two-thirds of Americans in a Rasmussen Reports poll last fall said they think there’s too much dependence on government. So when will the trend turn around?

Only when we bring back a culture of individual pride and self-reliance — and hold our government accountable for its part in destroying it.

— Michael Ryan, Executive Director, ROAR

It’s OK to be exceptional!

John Kerry was for American exceptionalism before he was against it.

Speaking to members of his diplomatic corps, the U.S Secretary of State recently made some oddly mixed comments about American exceptionalism. To his credit, he seems to grasp that the country is exceptional when he says:

"We are not defined by ethnicity. We are not defined by bloodline or by anything except an idea. And that idea was expressed in the Declaration of Independence and in our Constitution, the idea that people are created equal and that all people have a chance to aspire for greatness, for anything they want. Pretty amazing, right? So think about that. It’s the only country that is literally united and formed around and whose rule of law is based on that idea, one idea, and it’s pretty special."

Absolutely! But he also appears to misinterpret the meaning of exceptional when he says “a lot of other people are exceptional, a lot of other places do exceptional things.” If “a lot” of others are doing it, by definition, it’s not really exceptional — the root of which is “exception.”

Worse, he expresses embarrassment about public assertions of American exceptionalism, saying he always gets “a little uptight when I hear politicians say how exceptional we are …”

It’s a little unseemly for America’s top diplomat to be the least bit shy about such a source of national pride. Does that spring from a misreading of American exceptionalism?

American exceptionalism goes way beyond being mere pride. And, at bottom, it has nothing to do with Americans. It has to do with the system of self-governance we inherited, which is so rare — and, yes, exceptional — in human history.

Our Constitution, rule of law and our cherished freedoms are nothing to be embarrassed about. Nor are they anything to get all arrogant about, either.

They’re something to be proud of. And they really ought to be a model for others.

On that you’ll get no apologies from this quarter!

— Michael Ryan, Executive Director, ROAR

Top 10 ways to help America: No. 8: Accountability

Over the course of 10 days, ROAR.us is counting down the Top 10 things we can all do to help strengthen America.

July 4: No. 1: Be an informed, active citizen
July 7: No. 2: Be civil and kind
July 8: No. 3: Have a healthy lifestyle
July 9: No. 4: Decide what you believe and act on it
July 10: No. 5:Take responsibility for your life and your actions
July 11: No. 6: Be your brother’s keeper
July 14: No. 7: Be the best family member, neighbor and friend you can possibly be
Today: No. 8: Hold your elected representatives accountable

In a republic, elected leaders depend on our good graces to keep their jobs.

But only if we’re doing ours.

Because our elected officials are accountable primarily to us, it is we the people who must keep track of what they’re doing, and to stand up and say something when they run afoul of our wishes, the law or common decency.

But are we doing that?

Consider: Nearly every poll that measures public sentiment on the direction of the country indicates that, often by large margins, Americans are dissatisfied with where our leaders are taking us.

A Rasmussen Reports poll last week said only 25 percent of Americans agree with the direction of the country. Fully two-thirds of Americans believe the country is on the wrong track.

The public’s approval of Congress, at 16 percent, is the lowest in a midterm election year since Gallup thought to start asking the question in 1974.

The president’s approval rating is at 41 percent, tying the low mark for his presidency. His approval on foreign policy, normally the factor most Americans rally around, stood at 37 percent last month.

You have to wonder: Does this government even enjoy the consent of the governed anymore?

If not, what happens? Guess what: Nothing happens, unless we decide it does.

We’ve got to hold our elected representatives accountable — in letters, calls, town halls and, most importantly, at the ballot box. Otherwise, we no longer really have a republic. If we don’t hold them accountable, no one will.

Ben Franklin, asked what kind of government the founders had given us, famously replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.”

Some 200 years later, it’s still an open question.

— Michael Ryan, Executive Director, ROAR
July 15, 2014

Top 10 ways to help America: No. 7: Be the best you can be

Over the course of 10 days, ROAR.us is counting down the Top 10 things we can all do to help strengthen America.

July 4: No. 1: Be an informed, active citizen
July 7: No. 2: Be civil and kind
July 8: No. 3: Have a healthy lifestyle
July 9: No. 4: Decide what you believe and act on it
July 10: No. 5:Take responsibility for your life and your actions
July 11: No. 6: Be your brother’s keeper
Today: No. 7: To be the best family member, neighbor and friend that you can possibly be

I wrote a pocket-sized book called “225 Ways You Can Save America.” I felt that many Americans were deeply concerned about America, but didn’t know what to do about it. I thought the book would be mostly civic stuff — you know, voting, being informed, that kind of thing.

It totally surprised me. When I finished, it was mostly a book about being a better person. Stuff we used to learn from parents and teachers, and which was reinforced by the culture and society at large.

In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been surprised.

It stands to reason, after all, that a free country is only as good as the people who make it up. As it turns out, if we want a better America, we need to start by looking in the mirror.

As a building depends on the integrity of its load-bearing beams, so too does a free country rest on the rectitude of its people. As with a building, the strength and sturdiness of a free country begins with what’s inside.

We know this to be true intrinsically. But is that how we comport ourselves?

Actions, even private ones, have consequences. Think about your actions, and their effect on your family, friends and neighbors.

They’re having the same effect on this country, for good or ill.

Be the best family member, neighbor, friend — and citizen — that you can possibly be. It does matter.

— Michael Ryan, Executive Editor, ROAR

Top 10 ways to help America: No. 6: Be your brother’s keeper

Over the course of 10 days, ROAR.us is counting down the Top 10 things we can all do to help strengthen America.

July 4: No. 1: Be an informed, active citizen
July 7: No. 2: Be civil and kind
July 8: No. 3: Have a healthy lifestyle
July 9: No. 4: Decide what you believe and act on it
July 10: No. 5:Take responsibility for your life and your actions
Today: No. 6: Be your brother’s keeper

One of the keys to self-governance, as it turns out, is self-transcendence.

One of America’s greatest strengths is its people’s compassion for our fellow man. As French admirer Alexis de Tocqueville observed, “America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”

Charity and caring don’t just help the recipients; giving and helping famously uplift the giver and the helper. Invariably, the most generous among us report getting more out of a giving transaction than what they gave.

Moreover, kindness and altruism elevate society as a whole. The more people who get a hand up, the more people there are to give one.

And any nonprofit or supporter of nonprofits will tell you that good works create good will.

American benevolence not only makes this country better, but makes the world better.

Our civic duties are often thought of as voting, being informed and active in politics and so on — how we relate to the government. That’s all true. But in an enlightened society, good works are their own kind of civic obligation.

If we truly are our brother’s keeper, then America will continue to be both good and great.

— Michael Ryan, Executive Director, ROAR