America’s self-doubt through history | Rich Elfers

"There is something in the American soul that wants to believe that it is facing disaster, that it has failed, that some corruption deep in its being will steal its success. I suspect that this has something to do with the familial recollections of immigrants."

  • Wednesday, June 15, 2016 5:15pm
  • Opinion

“There is something in the American soul that wants to believe that it is facing disaster, that it has failed, that some corruption deep in its being will steal its success. I suspect that this has something to do with the familial recollections of immigrants.”

So says political analyst George Friedman in an April 16, 2016, “Geopolitical Futures” article entitled, “Journey to Europe: Thinking About Gagarin.”

America is a nation of immigrants. People who came here left their native lands in great part because they had failed. They were also optimists, believing they could make their lives better by risking everything to migrate to a new continent. In large part this nation of immigrants succeeded in their dreams, but we also retained a deep sense of inferiority, a feeling that disaster is just around the corner.

According to Friedman, Marxism beguiled European intellectuals at the end of World War II. They saw America’s bipolar tendencies as we emerged from the ashes of war as one of two great superpowers. Many despised America because they viewed us as unworthy to take the mantel of power from Europe. We, the “ugly Americans,” were too crass and vulgar to rule.

We took this scorn to heart and magnified it a hundred times. In 1957, the Soviets sent up the first orbiting satellite, Sputnik, and launched Yuri Gagarin into space in 1961, the first human to accomplish this feat. During this time our rockets were exploding on the launch pads or in mid-flight.

Americans searched for a scapegoat and, since we are a meritocracy, we blamed education for our failures. The Soviets must have a better education system, we reasoned. That’s why the Commies were beating us. Teachers and the American education system were blamed for the way we lagged behind the Soviets.

Massive transformations were enacted to change the way our children were taught. I know, I was a student during this time and remember the attempt to make us smarter by giving us “new math” – college-level courses with doctorate level terminology forced upon 14-year-olds.

“There was a massive transformation of education, which naturally changed nothing,” according to Friedman. Those were my sentiments at the time that I still hold.

President Dwight Eisenhower, being a World War II general, understood the real capacities of the Soviet military and was not frightened. Eisenhower saw the world through the eyes of a realist. He did not understand America’s inferiority complex.

For all his faults, President John Kennedy, who succeeded Eisenhower, understood.

“The United States had a fragile ego, and the Soviets had bruised it.” Kennedy knew that he must help America restore her self-confidence. He set the goal of going to the moon within the decade of the 1960s. Kennedy’s speech galvanized the nation to action, as the attack on Pearl Harbor did on Dec. 7, 1941.

Neil Armstrong walked on the moon in mid-1969, yet at the same time we were fighting and losing the war in Vietnam – our next failure and the renewal of our foreboding sense that we were in decline. The great accomplishment of going to the moon was overshadowed by our deepening sense of inadequacy over Vietnam.

The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and, with it, Marxist dogma. We emerged as the only superpower. We succeeded again, but the self-doubts remained.

We, in this current presidential election year, are feeling our historic self-doubt. That’s why some rally around the slogan, “Make America great again.” This is just a replay of our bipolar tendency to arrogance on one hand and self-doubt on the other. We listen because it is a part of our makeup and immigrant heritage. We Americans have fragile egos.

Hopefully, the majority of us can see reality through our national mood swings. The current fear and rejection of immigrants, which some advocate, is really a repeat of our own immigrant past with its dark self-doubts and overbright optimism.

More in Opinion

America’s monster

I’m not sure when it happened, but I recently realized I’ve stopped asking myself, “What are we going to do about mass shootings and gun violence in this country?” Instead, I now ask, “When is the carnage going to come to Enumclaw?”

Avoiding loss means more than gaining something else

Some studies have shown that losses are twice as psychologically powerful as gains. American history and our current political situation help reveal a great deal about the American/human psyche.

Congratulations, Jan Molinaro

In every election, one person must win and the other will lose. Now more than ever, it is important to show our children how to be gracious in victory and humble in defeat.

Don’t give into the pressure of driving drowsy

Eleven years ago, a drowsy-driving car wreck left me with injuries that still challenge me today.

Opening our minds can be a beautiful thing

As a leader of my church’s Sunday Adult Forum, I had a goal: to put a human face on Islam for the members of the congregation and community.

The definition of insanity

It is totally clear that the incumbent mayor lacks any ability to bring people together and get things done. She is a failure as mayor, making Black Diamond a laughing stock with her out of control behavior and outbursts at Council meetings.

Baxley and Young should have showed up at public forum

On Tuesday, October 17th, was the Black Diamond Maple Valley Chamber of Commerce Candidates Forum, where the Black Diamond candidates for Mayor and two City Council positions had the opportunity to talk with the citizens of Black Diamond, and to answer questions put to them by these citizens.

Issues to be addressed in Enumclaw elections

Who should I vote for in the Enumclaw City Council and mayoral races?

Enumclaw helped raise $3,500 for Special Olympics

The last couple of weekends the St. Barbara Knights of Columbus have been involved with our annual Tootsie Roll Program.

Court grapples with school funding

When the legal battle on education funding returned to the state Supreme Court Tuesday, the leader of Washington’s public school system was closely monitoring this installment of the McCleary drama from his office down the street.

Baxley is an important choice for Black Diamond mayor

Judy Baxley has been part of our local civics for years, and thank goodness because citizen involvement is critical to monitoring big developers.

Enumclaw chamber board supports Molinaro for mayor

In an election with significant consequences that will largely shape the future of our community, Enumclaw voters have a clear choice for mayor.