Nostalgia is America's fatal disease. We love to "go back," to talk of the good old days, to wish we could return to an era forever gone. This rhetoric that warms our hearts, though, is, ironically, the impetus for our national self-destruction. Nostalgia valorizes a past that never was, casts a dark shadow of distortion across the present, and prevents us from projecting a viable, sincere vision of a better future. When we, as a nation, say we want to go back to a time past, that's very often what happens, for such talk sends us into a regressive downward spiral that prevents critical social progress in America.
The American political scene is shot through with the rhetoric of nostalgia. A growing movement in the United States, led by conservative and neoconservative politicians, scholars and spokespeople, heralds a return to an America they believe has died in the tumult of recent social change. This America, they say, was one where we all worked hard and took care of our own. It was a harmonious place where everyone, from presidents to janitors, shared common values on community, family, government, and life.
We need the American Dream back, the rhetoric goes. Way back when, with some elbow grease and a little ingenuity, everyone could have a house in the suburbs and a new white dress for their daughter on Easter Sunday. Enough of this social chaos, where everyone complains about everything, and they're all looking for a free handout from the government. We need to go back to when things were right_to when fair was fair, everyone believed in the family, and people had their heads on straight. Sounds nice, doesn't it?! ...
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...edom_beyond that which any peoples have ever before experienced. This chaos is difficult and always challenging, and leaves us with nothing to hold onto. The answer to these challenges, though, is not to turn in this chaos for a new white dress and a home in the suburbs. Rather, we must create a new color of virtue, find a new place of hope.
We need not out of fear go back to our past, as American nostalgia tells us to. We must shed our fears and strive for a new order, one forged in chaos and grounded in freedom. New cultural and political norms, on structures from family to government, are waiting to be born, and it is our job to create and nurture them. It is time to lay our fear of the unknown aside and jump headlong into the darkness of the future. Only then can we hope to someday awake from the nightmare of the past to the light of a new day.
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