I visited my daughter’s school not long ago and saw a sign saying students would most remember the teacher who had touched a student’s heart. While it is indisputable that touching someone’s heart leads to fond memories, one’s most important memories of a classroom should be what one has learned there.
Students should predominantly get the message that learning is serious business and the most touching thing about it is the set of skills one gains to live a productive life. These involve not only arithmetic, language, and a grasp of history—so that one needn’t repeat the bad parts—but the skill of learning itself, and of recognizing objective reality.
We all remember people in our lives who have touched us. Some of them have taught us things, and some of them have not. In “It’s a Wonderful Life,” old Uncle Billy may be remembered because he was lovable, but he was also an incompetent drunk who got George Bailey into serious trouble by stupidly mislaying $8,000, which the greedy and destructive Mr. Potter then stole. If anybody taught us anything in that movie, it was Potter, not because we loved him but because his destructive behavior emits a strong lesson.
We can also learn something from Mary, George’s wife. She is remembered for being lovable. But the real lesson we learn from her is inspiring. She taught us, through her love for George, the values of loyalty, honor, and discipline.
Respect: the Good Kind of Fear
Is it more important to be loved than respected? It depends on the importance of the memory. We may briefly remember a good feeling from a movie, but it is usually more important to remember a serious lesson from the stern father, brother, or uncle who told us to stand up and take it like a man, or how proud he was of our accomplishments.
We respected such people and even feared them a little. But out of that respect came a very real kind of love, the love of decency and honesty. It might not have been the soft love of charity, but it was love nonetheless. Love can only grow from respect, even as respect sometimes grows out of fear, the fear that if we don’t learn the lessons well, we will suffer the consequences.
We Americans must think with our heads, as we once did, and a lot less with our hearts. I’m not suggesting we be unfeeling or uncharitable, but that our feelings must be directed toward a hierarchy of values, drawn from reason and intelligence rather than from blind adherence to sensitivity.
One lesson we must learn is that compassion for poverty isn’t effective when addressed through confiscation. Charity is local, as is poverty. Vast federal welfare bureaucracy is not charitable. Government is impersonal and distant, destined to be feared, but never loved, because the lessons we learn from it are warnings against its inevitable encroachment. A bloated government is not good, but a powerful America is the stabilizing force that, if its might is exercised wisely, can keep peace among nations.
Thus, we must ask: Are we, as a nation, to be loved or respected? Which does us—and the rest of the world—the greatest good? Among the community of nations, respect equals fear. The most feared nation is, tacitly, the most loved, because it is the most respected. After the Second World War, the United States was unquestionably the model for all nations in the free world. In fact, it was also the model for all nations behind the Iron Curtain, because the vast majority of citizens in various parts of the communist world longed to be free of totalitarian dictatorship.
Leftists Want Us to Forget What Made Us Great
Yet those who make great fortunes are often not the ones who squander wealth. Those who inherit it but do not understand tend to squander it—because they have not learned the lessons that made their fortunes in the first place. Since the mid-twentieth-century, the lessons of our nation’s greatness have been eroded by forces on the Left unrestrained by the common sense and reason of an apathetic population. Except for a brief period of Reaganism, during which traditional American values re-emerged, we have been besotted by a constant drone of collectivist propaganda, mostly from Democrats, but also from their Republican fellow travelers.
The values of collectivism, adopted happily by liberal Democrats, include ignoring and even encouraging uncontrolled illegal immigration; arming our enemies (of which Iran is one of the greatest); profligate waste of our wealth by power-drunk politicians, who rake off an obscene percentage for themselves; the weakening of our military in the hope of making our enemies love rather than fear us; and the destruction of our education system through federal mandates such as Common Core, which encourages false narratives of history and other mind-warps designed to numb students to the realities of our once great nation.
The font of this destructive process is the Left itself, through its various agencies, funded by our enemies from without and from within, and acceded to by greedy, preening politicians inside our own government who lust for personal wealth and who believe they will be exempt from their own dissolution if our society fails. They are at best naïve and stupid, and at worst evil-doers who ought to be thrown out of all positions of influence.
If America is to be restored to its rightful place as the leader of nations, we must again be feared and respected. To do this, we must regain our military might and enforce our values, including the concept of individual human rights and freedom, everywhere we go. No civilization in recorded human history has had greater respect or greater love of humankind than the United States. Notwithstanding spots in its history, it has proven for the better part of two and a half centuries to be the kindest, freest, most prosperous nation to its people and to those in the rest of the world who admire and wish to be a part of it.
America is still a beacon for people who long for freedom and the right to pursue their own destinies. But to keep that beacon lit we must again become the most powerful nation on Earth. Only then will we once again reclaim the world’s love.