The American Agenda

By Ralph Sheffield

Never have people been more generously endowed by the hand of God and the travail of their predecessors than we—an inspiring tradition of faith; hard-won freedoms tempered by enlightened law; a large populace, culturally rich and varied; abundant natural resources; a proud history of expanding justice, amending faults, and opposing tyranny at home and abroad; a hardy inventiveness, conquering frontiers of wilderness and sky, darkness and disease, smashing idols and atoms in defense of right; a generous world-view, bestowing largesse upon mankind; noble institutions for the welfare of minorities, the disadvantaged, and the people at large, bringing caution and understanding; a bold sense of enterprise, giving prosperity to an unprecedented range of people. Truly, our blessings defy reckoning.

Our heritage, if not unflawed, is unsurpassed. Our agenda, therefore, must be equally surpassing. It is empirically a two-tiered agenda—perpetual and proximate. The latter deals with current events and issues, but derives lasting efficacy only when consonant with the former, which is, simply stated, that set of principles upon which our democracy rests: 1) trust in God, 2) right to life, 3) right to liberty, 4) right of expression, 5) popular sovereignty, 6) equal justice, 7) united citizenry, 8) secure defense, 9) domestic tranquility, 10) general welfare, 11) concern for posterity, 12) honorable peace. The policies of the proximate agenda (the “how”) may vary with events and times, and alacrity, competence, and nerve may or may not carry the day. But the principles of the perpetual agenda (the “what”) require penetrating vision, courage, rectitude, and Divine inspiration, which have carried the years—and centuries. Indeed, there is something supernal about these principles, and living them has brought enduring success. The stirring ideal of our national anthem, “then conquer we must when our cause it is just,” has been fulfilled—literally, even at times when, realistically, it should have been otherwise (provoking such laments as “God is a Yankee!” from hostile armies defeated by twists of fortune beyond the laws of probability and the metier of military science). Thus it has been—when our national character has been virtuous and our purpose unalloyed.

But, is the world changing? Most of us have observed a moral degeneracy within our lifetime. It is wickedly naive to suppose, because of the sheer strength of our legacy, that we can endlessly dissipate the achievement of our national Founders. We will assuredly fall from grace as we fall from righteousness as a people—soaring crime and divorce rates; sexual desecrations (pornography, illegitimacy, adultery, abortion, homosexuality), alcohol and drug abuse; civil strifes; racism and social injustice; evil coteries seeking to de-Christianize society through legalistic humbug under guise of civil liberties (chiseling the very bulwark that protects them); governmental obesity (living beyond its means, reaching beyond its authority); a something-for-nothing attitude in the populace, hoping to give as little and grab as much as possible; shameless unpatriotism; cultural vulgarity and ungodliness! These trends speak for themselves—a vivid critique upon our moral standing before “the Supreme Judge of the world.” And in foreign affairs, we have historically drawn strength from our ideals, not from a cynical realpolitik of evil against evil. And just as the hale economy of Sodom or the fine esthetics of Pompeii did not save them from the consequences of moral abomination, we will not merit the continuing favor of “the God of the whole earth” by resisting only those political, moral, and spiritual barbarities at home or abroad which threaten selfishly-perceived economic interests, while remaining indifferent to all other enormities in our power and province to remedy. When we violate our founding principles, especially the foremost—“reliance on Divine Providence” (affirmed repeatedly in the Declaration)—no expert counsels, superior weaponry, technology, diplomacy, or economic might can save us, for it is written, “righteousness exalteth a nation,” but “the wicked shall be turned unto hell, and all the nations that forget God.” The choice is clear—and clearly ours!

Ralph Sheffield (author of Poems on Purpose) is a prize-winning poet, composer, and conductor of the Sheffield Family Consort, performing (Boston Pops-style) at public and private occasions.

Copyright © 2005 Ralph Sheffield