Dear Adam and Dylan:
As I write this, you are 11 and 7 years old – young enough to still be innocent and insulated from what we grown-ups have done to your world.
I was your ages in the 1970s, a time when the country was suffering a massive hangover from the Vietnam War, the counterculture revolution, and Watergate. To make matters worse, we were dealing with an energy shortage and a severe economic recession. We were in a funk, and we had lost belief in our country and ourselves.
I still remember those days, when it was considered naive and out-of-touch to feel patriotic and positive about our country.
But even during that funk, we didn’t hate each other. We were pretty miserable, but we were miserable together. And so, when a beacon of light emerged to tell us that we were still a great country, that it was Morning in America, that we were still a Shining City on a Hill, and that our best days were yet to come, we were able to latch on to that vision and, under a great president, make it real.
Well, here we are 40 years later, and our country once again is in a funk. But this time, it’s not because of any great hangover from great traumas. Yes, we fought two wars in the prior decade, but these wars had very few American casualties and both ended in victories. Those wars paled in comparison to Vietnam, Korea, World Wars I and II, and all the wars before that in which hundreds of thousands of Americans were killed.
We also had no Watergate. Yes, every administration has its scandals, but we did not face any scandals of such epic proportions that it shook the public’s faith in our governmental institutions to its core like Watergate did.
We had no counterculture revolution. Nothing even close.
We did have a recession, but it lasted only a few months. We did elect a president whose policies prevented us from returning very quickly to prosperity, but at least we didn’t remain in a severe and prolonged recession like we faced in the 1970s.
No, today’s funk is about one thing and one thing only: We have forgotten how to love our neighbors.
Americans have held sharp political disagreements going back to the beginning of the republic, but we settled those disagreements peacefully through the ballot box. Did you know that when Thomas Jefferson defeated John Adams in the election of 1800 and Adams stepped down and handed the reigns of government to his greatest political opponent, that was the first time in human history that one government had peacefully the opposition to take over? That had never happened before – but we Americans did it just 12 years into our new constitutional republic.
Even the Civil War was not specifically about ideological differences like we face today. It was more about differing geographical and economic interests. (This is a gross oversimplification, but the point is that the divisions that led to the Civil War were not rooted in the kind of ideological hatred that currently consumes our country.)
Even as recently as 17 years ago, when our nation was brutally attacked by Islamist radicals, we came together as one. Democrats joined Republicans and worked as Americans to repair the nation’s wounds and bring justice to those who attacked us.
Alas, those days of unity and patriotism quickly vanished.
Today, we no longer can even talk to each other. We no longer are capable of respecting disagreements. And, worst of all, we no longer confine our disagreements to the battlefield of electoral politics. Now we are turning our country into an actual battlefield.
Today, we so distrust everyone who holds views contradicting our own that we assume that everyone who holds such views is either dangerously stupid or is nefariously plotting the destruction of our country.
We now have a president who makes no pretense at civility. But then, from the day that he announced his candidacy 3 years ago, the entire so-called “news” media have launched a relentless war of smears and defamation against him that has only increased in tone and severity through today.
Our president’s former Democrat opponent recently stated that she and her party “can’t” be civil toward Republicans.
A past attorney general, whose duty had been to be the top law-enforcement official in the country, recently told a group of fellow Democrats that what makes the “new Democratic Party” special is that they “kick” their opponents.
Democrat members of Congress have encouraged their party activists across the country to viciously confront Republicans, especially those in office. And so they have, with over 600 separate acts of and incitements to violence in the past 3 years.
Last year, one Democrat opened fire on a number of Republican congressman holding a baseball practice. One of those congressman, the third-ranking Republican in Congress, nearly died.
Sure, the Leaders of the Democrat Party denounced this terrorist attack and expressed their shock and sadness, but the fact remains that they had been engaging in rhetoric that encouraged acts of belligerence.
And since that time these Democrats have done nothing to tone down their incitements to violence. Instead, they have intensified it.
Last month, the Democrats tried to defeat the appointment of one of the most respected and admired jurists in the country to the Supreme Court, a man with an impeccable personal and professional reputation, by conducting a scheme to defame him as a serial rapist. Never before in American history has a party conducted itself so boldly dishonestly, shamelessly and cynically to achieve a political end.
But then, this is the party that announced the day after they lost the 2016 election their intention to try to impeach the newly elected president or remove him by any other means possible. They still have that objective and are still working to make it happen.
While the vast majority of the political violence across our country has been coming from the left, there are those on the right-wing fringe who have joined the fray as well. Last year, white supremacists converged on Charlottesville, Virginia to rally in favor or Confederate statues. One of those fringe activists ran over a woman with his car.
Last week, another fringe radical sent mail bombs to at least 12 prominent Democrats. Only his incompetence in preparing these packages prevented anyone from getting hurt.
And yesterday, a self-proclaimed Nazi entered a synagogue and slaughtered 11 of our fellow Jews because they were Jewish. One of them was a 97-year-old Holocaust survivor attending a baby’s bris. She had survived the Nazi death camps only to be murdered for being Jewish here in what was once the world’s melting pot.
(It should be noted that as atrocious as these acts were, there are two major differences between these acts and those by the left. First, Democrat leaders have been encouraging acts of belligerence and violence against Republicans and conservatives, while Republican and conservative leaders have made clear that such acts against anyone are unacceptable and intolerable. Second, acts of and incitements to violence by Democrats and their leftist allies are literally a daily occurrence, while such acts by people on the right are rare to the point of being almost non-existent.)
This is not the America that I was born into and grew up in.
I grew up in a country where, like the generations before us, we had passionate disagreements with each other, but, like those generations before us, we were able to discuss those disagreements and agree to disagree on many of them. We sorted out those disagreements through elections, and we accepted the results of those elections and worked to do better in the next ones.
Twenty years ago, I had the privilege of working for a member of the U.S. Senate. In that job, I regularly worked with the staffs of Democrat senators in a common recognition that it takes compromise to get anything done. Most folks there on the Hill still understood that they were Americans first and partisans second. While we had strongly-held policy disagreements, we were all working for what we honestly believed to be the best interests of a country we all loved.
I attended law school at night while working in the Senate, and two of the members of my four-person study group were Democrat congressional staffers. We remained friends well beyond graduation. My roommate at the time was a press assistant to Sen. Ted Kennedy, one of the most liberal and partisan Democrats in the Senate. That former roommate is still a good friend of mine. But, sadly, our friendship these days is much more an exception than the rule when it comes to Americans respecting differences of political opinions.
The culprit leading to the current state of political belligerence is actually pretty obvious: The Internet has led to a dangerous level of bias confirmation that has put us at each other’s throats.
Simply put, in the new Information Age, there are literally thousands of places that people can and do go to get information. These places have varying degrees of credibility and accuracy, but almost all of them have a political agenda. The result has been that the vast majority of people get their information from places that validate and confirm their already existing views and biases.
At the same time, the Internet has also given us the new phenomenon of social media, where most of us have taken residence in bubbles consisting almost exclusively of people who share our views.
So, most of us now have points of view that have been validated and confirmed by “news” sources and by the fact that everyone we know agrees with us. This perfect bubble of ideological isolation causes us to believe that anyone with a different point of view is either dangerously ignorant or has a malicious agenda against our country.
Of course, the people with those different views live in their own bias confirmation bubbles and believe the same thing about us.
And so, we don’t and can’t talk with each other anymore about our differences because we now doubt each other’s motives and basic loyalty to our country.
We can’t work things out peacefully anymore, so now our differences are cause for war.
So far, this has been a cold war consisting mostly of leftists yelling at and occasionally shoving Republicans and conservatives. But it’s getting progressively worse, up to and including attempts to kill our perceived opponents. Sooner than later those attempts are going to start succeeding.
We are headed toward a new civil war, and this time it will be a war for the very existence of both our constitutional republic and and our nation’s very soul.
I pray to God it never goes that far. During the Cold War of my youth, both our country and the Soviet Union, our Communist enemy, had a large arsenal of nuclear weapons capable of destroying all of us many times over. We came close to launching those missiles on a few occasions, but both sides always managed to step back from the edge of that precipice because neither side wanted to win so badly that they were willing to destroy literally everything to do it.
We are now once again heading toward the edge of a precipice, but the current cold war is now internal, and it is an open question whether we will have the wisdom not to march over it.
Will both sides recognize in time that our country could not emerge from a new hot civil war as a healthy, united constitutional republic? Will both sides care?
Adam and Dylan, by the time you’re both old enough to read and understand this letter, you will know whether we realized the madness of our course and reversed it – or whether we succumbed to that madness. The answer to that question will have determined what kind of world we left for you.
But even if we manage to regain our sanity and learn once again how to treat our political opponents with civility and respect as fellow Americans, we will still have screwed your generation over.
You see, one thing that both sides of the political divide have agreed on for decades is that we could solve most of our present budgetary problems by stealing money from your generation before you’re old enough to object. So, that multi-trillion dollar debt that you inherited upon becoming adults in America is there because we took it from you so we could live large during our own time. You got the bill – and our utter indifference.
We haven’t earned a happy ending, but I pray that we were able to right our ship before it was too late because you and your generation deserve better. You deserve a chance to get right what mine got so very wrong.
If this country survives my generation, I beg you: Be better than us.
Look at the way we did things, and do the opposite.
When you are tempted to steal money from your kids, like we did from you, decide that you will be the generation that once again loves your children more than you love yourselves. Don’t continue my generation’s moral failure.
When you see people disagreeing with you, resist the temptation to consider them ignorant or malicious. They might actually be wrong, but that doesn’t make them bad people, just as you won’t be bad people when you’re wrong. You will be from time to time, and that’s okay.
When you feel the temptation to hate, turn the other cheek and decide to love your neighbor, even if he isn’t treating you with love. Kill them with kindness – rather than just trying to kill them like my generation is doing.
I write this letter to you out of desperation and love. I love you, and I love this country that my generation has so badly screwed up.
It is grotesquely unfair that you have to inherit our mess, but you have no choice but to take the world as we left it.
Where you do have a choice, though, is in deciding what to do with it once it’s yours.
Please, for the love of God, be better than us.
Author: Ken Falkenstein
Ken Falkenstein is the Managing Editor of Committed Conservative and brings a wealth of experience and expertise in public affairs to the job. Ken served in the U.S. Army in the last years of the Cold War as a Russian linguist for military intelligence and the NSA. After leaving the Army, he earned his degree in Secondary Education from Old Dominion University, where he also wrote a popular column in the student newspaper.
Upon graduation, Ken worked as a Legislative Aide to two Republican members of the Virginia House of Delegates. Ken also served as Corresponding Secretary of the Young Republican Federation of Virginia, managed several successful political campaigns, and managed governmental affairs operations for a local Realtor association.
In 1995, Ken moved to Washington, DC to serve as a Legislative Assistant to Sen. John Warner (R-VA). While working for Sen. Warner, Ken attended law school at night, earning his J.D. with honors from the George Mason University School of Law (n/k/a The Antonin Scalia Law School). Since that time, Ken has practiced as a civil litigation attorney, including serving for three years as an Associate City Attorney for the City of Virginia Beach, Virginia.
Ken previously was a contributor to the highly-regarded political blog Bearing Drift and was a weekly co-host of The Steve Batton Radio Program. In 2016, Ken ran unsuccessfully for the Virginia Beach School Board. Ken is also a former President of the Down Syndrome Association of Hampton Roads.
Ken now lives outside of Denver, Colorado with his wife, Kim, and three sons, Adam, Dylan, and Joshua, who has Down syndrome. Ken’s writing is motivated and informed primarily by his concern for his kids’ future.