The Roots of America’s Greatness

Dear Reader,

The following is a continuation of my blog series based on my book The Midnight Hour: A Jungian Perspective on America’s Pivotal Moment. If you are just now picking up on the series, you might start with the Introduction: Welcome to the Challenges of Change.

I hope that it will help you, as writing it has helped me, to find a candle to contribute to your light.

Whether you agree with me or not, I hope my work helps you clarify your own position, both within and to the chaotic times surrounding us. Above all, I hope it helps you create a new vision of the future and a new hope that draws you to commit to it.

Bud Harris
Asheville, North Carolina

We the People, US Constitution

The Midnight Hour:
A Jungian Perspective on America’s Pivotal Moment

Chapter 13: The Roots of America’s Greatness


“I fear forgetfulness as much as I fear hatred and death,” Elie Wiesel declared in his powerful book From the Kingdom of Memory. To forget is to deny our origins, our roots, and our people. If we don’t know the past, we cannot understand the present or clearly judge how to influence the future. If we are cut off from our roots—our national soul—we will begin to wither and lose our selfhood. Imagine the shocking rage that John Adams witnessed when he saw a Boston tax collector being tarred and feathered shortly before our American Revolution began. This violent outburst by otherwise peaceful citizens was the result of feeling ignored by their government. It shocked John Adams into realizing the need for radical changes in home rule. The rage in our country today should awaken us in a similar way. That rage was the beginning of our national history, and a turning point in western history. If our beginnings are not forgotten, they are not gone; they are still alive today.

Imagine, if you would, those people from the past—John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and all the others—gathered in a building in Philadelphia, struggling to reach the point of adopting a Declaration of Independence.  They knew they were risking everything, because if they lost, they would be hung as traitors. In that struggle, they gave birth to a challenge that would shape our history and that of the Western world.

“Freedom, equality, and opportunity” may be sublime ideas, but they are much, much more than that. Freedom, equality, and opportunity are needs that were born out of the soul of humanity, out of the very heart of humankind—our kind—in the Western world. This birth took place in the land ruled by the most powerful king of the age, and in a society where liberty and equality were not in style.

The courageous people who gave birth to our Declaration of Independence were human beings, like all of us. They were products of their time and had their flaws and weaknesses, like all of us. But their example challenges us to face life with more courage and the deep desire to fulfill our part in carrying our country’s founding vision a step forward in our lifetime. They did not create an outline for a perfect world. The Declaration, and our Constitution, reflect some of the human flaws of those who wrote it, but the moral vision they created challenges us to meet it, and enlarge it in the world we are helping to create. The challenge to our hearts is to remember and carry forward the vision of “Liberty” married to “Equality” as stated in our Declaration of Independence; and we must remember the people we elect become the embodiment of who we are.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident…that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights…that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness…to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men…” These words also fueled the French Revolution and have brought inspiration to the Western world since they were written. This vision from the soul of humanity should be the backbone of our national life because it is the force that transforms us from subjects into citizens, every one of us. Like our founding fathers, we need to find the greatness of heart and spirit to transcend our fears and weaknesses. If we forget to nourish this taproot in our history, it will die. If we remember it, it lives on, unites us, and empowers our vision of life. It is this vision that has made our nation truly great; admired by the world in a way that supersedes material, economic, and military might.

Remember, with this vision, a bunch of ragged farmers and frontiersmen defeated the strongest government in the Western world at the time. It is our destiny to keep it alive and to fulfill our generation’s duty towards it. We must wake up because we who should be tending the flame are in danger of betraying that vision and allowing the flame to be smothered.

Recapturing Our Challenge for a New Normal

There are four powerful temptations that we must guard against in these fragmented and chaotic times. The first of these is helplessness, the feeling that there is little that I as one person can do against the power, misery, injustice, and violence around me. We are, in fact, able to do something.  One committed person can always make a difference. Some of us may cause big changes. Most of us can change a small portion of events. In the totality of all our acts we create the history of our era.

I cannot help but think of all those soldiers during our revolution during the freezing winter at Valley Forge dealing with poor clothing, near starvation, tattered tents and primitive huts for housing, and rampant influenza. At home their wives struggled with taking care of children, elders, farms, shops, and so on. These were mostly uneducated folks, but they understood the needs of the human heart for liberty, equality, and opportunity. They endured. They crossed the freezing Delaware River with George Washington to win a rare victory. They endured for six-and-a-half years, losing almost every battle, until they finally won the war and stood down the army of Lord Cornwallis in a final defeat. This is our heritage. This heritage isn’t dead—it tends to drop out of sight until we have a tragedy. I remember with tears in my heart the many police and firefighters who went into the towers on 9/11 knowing they would probably never come out. They proved that deep down our spirit still has the potential to be unconquerable. These men and women remind us of what is best in us. Futility is not an option because every act can create a ripple of hope and change.

The second temptation is practicality. Practicality, expediency, has become far too popular in our times. The idea that we must be practical limits our vision and our possibilities and separates us from the foundational strength of our nation—the strength to rise above ourselves to meet the challenges of our reality and our destiny, to remember that our rights are diminished when the rights of anyone around us are threatened. Theodore Roosevelt taught us by word and deed that only those who dare to fail greatly can achieve greatly. The moral aims and values supported by our visions of liberty, equality, and opportunity for every one of us are not incompatible with the economic possibilities for our society. Capitalism or efficiency without the heart of our value system will lead us to disaster.

The third temptation we have to face is fear. In fact, I am damn sick and tired of having our media and too many of our politicians throwing fear at me all the time. We are the strongest country in the world militarily and economically. I am also sick and tired of the fear we live in due to the ruthlessness of our job markets, our lack of safety nets, and our fear of absurd health-care costs. It is time for us to rediscover the moral courage it takes to reclaim the heart of our democracy. Real freedom and a real sense of personal value in our culture will do a lot to free us from many basic fears. But we have to find the courage our forebears found to start a revolution. Courage is the one essential quality needed to change the world and to gain a life of one’s own.

The fourth temptation we face is staying in our comfort zones and following the temptations of easy, familiar paths, whether they are being dependent on public help or following personal ambitions. We can sleepwalk through life, trying to shut out the unpleasantness, and not take self-responsibility for the danger, chaos, and uncertainty in our times. We are the ones who need to step out of our comfort zones and reclaim the heart of our democracy, and the soul of our heritage. We need to be tough enough to follow the example of perseverance shown by the members of our revolution to change our government on the national level, the state level, the county level, and the city level—no matter if it takes six-and-a-half years as our original revolution did. I must also ask if we are tough enough to look in the mirror and say, as the old comic strip character Pogo did, that “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Or I might say it another way: “Do I value myself, my country, and the future I want to see for my children, grandchildren, and the rest of us enough to become fully engaged? Would it also help if I stopped underestimating myself, my power to be engaged, and my potential strength as a citizen?” Sure.

Daring to Accept Reality And Our Power To Change It

During my lifetime my parents, along with many others living through the Great Depression, committed to create a new reality for our country through the New Deal of President Roosevelt. They began their endeavor by demanding political leadership that recognized something was badly wrong and had the courage and vision to take the country forward. Action and change became their watchwords.

Shortly after the Depression, our country experienced a devastating defeat at Pearl Harbor and in the Philippine Islands that resulted in the terrible Bataan Death March where additional thousands of our service men and women died. My parents and our country responded to this crisis with a full commitment to a shared purpose and direction. With courage and sacrifice in the next four-and-a-half years they changed the history of the world. They changed it again by helping their former enemies rebuild their countries and restructure their futures. Then they changed the world again with the Marshall Plan that helped restore the foundation of war-torn Europe. They were not the perfect generation, but they earned the title of the “greatest generation.” This is our heritage in my lifetime. Dare we forget it? This is the heritage of America’s strength, “in the ability to stand up to any challenges, no matter how difficult or daunting.” Can I, can we, like they did, have the courage to leave our comfort zones, especially those of hatred, ideology, and fear-driven greed, and face the commitment to create a new national reality?

The quest in much of this book is to face the truth of our personal and national reality. A quest Dr. Jung put at the heart of our efforts to become whole and to fulfill the purpose of our lives. This pursuit means facing our shadow, the unpleasant truths about ourselves that we have automatically sought to hide and deny. As a nation we hide behind statistics like the unemployment rate. We hide behind our material success. We hide behind our myths, like everyone has a chance for success through hard work. We hide behind our façade of positive thinking and we hide behind our frantic busyness.

There is no question that we need to make fundamental changes and we need to make them fast. The incremental approach will not bring healing, or civility, or return us to a sense of community. To think we can’t change the status of our poor, our sick, our prisoners, and develop racial unity (as our great religions instruct us to do) means our fear and regressive impulses are limiting our capacity for creativity, courage, and vision.

Let us be brave enough to tell the truth about global warming. It is a life or death issue! We have a choice: to fully mobilize together to prevent it or to admit we are choosing to participate in causing the greatest humanitarian disaster in history. Every day that goes by without a full commitment to change is another step toward creating a hell for our own grandchildren and all grandchildren to live in.

We are challenged today to become a new great generation – to revitalize our national spirit. We are called to re-ground ourselves in the founding values of our country that initially formed the heart of the American story. This foundation will support us to face and confront the dramatic challenges before us today.

Thoughts and Questions to Ponder

We are at a turning point in our nation’s history and the future is asking us four questions:

  1. Will we step up to the plate and as citizens reclaim our democratic republic?
  2. Will we re-humanize our culture by reclaiming our founding values?
  3. Will we commit ourselves to saving this planet and tomorrow for ourselves, our children, our grandchildren, and humanity?
  4. Will we claim our heritage and become the next “greatest generation”?


Next chapter…

The Midnight Hour: A Jungian Perspective on America's Current Pivotal Moment The above is Chapter 13 of my book The Midnight Hour: A Jungian Perspective on America’s Current Pivotal Moment.

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