PREFACE

 

A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both.

 

President Dwight D. Eisenhower

 

 

 

What’s it mean to be an American?

 

Americans are a diverse lot. We are composed of people from every human race, ethnicity, religion, and non-religion. Our beliefs, lifestyles, interests, and desires range from the sublime to the ridiculous. Clearly, this is a recipe for social chaos and disaster.

 

So what holds us together?

 

For the past 25 years, I have been writing op-ed essays mostly for our local newspaper, the Peoria Journal Star. As a practicing clinical psychologist and president of one of Illinois’ largest treatment centers (Fayette Companies) for mental health and substance abuse, I had developed a keen interest in American culture. After all, human problems are greatly affected and even arise out of the very culture in which they occur.

 

All the essays picked up on some aspect of American culture that—so I believed—the general public would find informative if not interesting. Apparently, the editors at the Peoria Journal Star, a tough crew who would readily reject or slice and dice an article in a flash, thought so too. They never rejected one, but at times they did some slicing and dicing.

 

Among the 80 or so essays, I began a tradition in 1990 of writing an op-ed for the Fourth of July. As usual, I tried to include current cultural issues to make the Fourth relevant to the times. I also became aware that the general public was quite weak in their historical knowledge and so by the turn of the century I started to weave some early American history into each essay. In this regard, the editors let me write well beyond the traditional 750 word op-ed piece.

 

Given the cultural conflicts or culture wars during the past 20 years, the question arose as to what actually holds Americans together and what does it mean to be an American in the first place. Was America really all that polarized? The Fourth of July essays were attempts to address and answer these questions.

 

And so does this book, The Soul of America, but in a more direct and affirmative way. The simple yet not so simple answer is embedded in one question: If Americans no longer believe in the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address, can America continue to exist?

 

The book’s major proposition is that America consists in a set of beliefs—truths—that bind us together. It’s what makes us Americans. And without that belief, no Constitution, no laws, no whatever can keep us together. America as America would cease to exist. We might become like the Netherlands or Switzerland, wonderful places to live and work, but there would no longer be an America.

 

The Soul of America consists of essays that speak to what it means to be an American. The book is composed of three parts: the Birth of America, Cultural Strife, and Patriotism.

 

Part I: Birth of America is an easy way of learning something about the basics origins of the Declaration of Independence and what was going on that led up to the American Revolution.

 

My sources are from noted scholars of American history. They are referenced in the Bibliography.

 

Part II: Cultural Strife includes some specific events that have tormented the nation during the past two decades. Whether an essay was written in 1990 during the Savings and Loans crisis or in the time of the 2009 TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program), the essays remain quite relevant for today.

 

In fact, by comparing the then and now, the reader can trace how our culture can change incrementally and often for the worse. It’s the reason why I have placed the original publication date at the end of each essay. Wherever the data used in an essay may have changed, it has been updated at the end of the article.

 

Part III: Patriotism gets to the meat and potatoes of what we Americans must do if we are to maintain the nation. A “government of the people, by the people, for the people” is one-third formal—elected representative government—and two-thirds informal—We the People. If we think and act as if it is only elected officials that make the country, we will become like Russia and endow our leaders with tyrannical power.

 

This is what the Soul of America is all about. I hope that you will find it not just informative or interesting, but a source of encouragement and motivation to become personally involved in making our nation a better America.