Lee Greenwood was pleasantly surprised when Universal Studios decided to release his new song, God Bless the U.S.A., as a single. This iconic song lifted the spirits of Americans after each national crisis, including Desert Storm, Hurricane Katrina, and the terror attack of 9/11. His song also became the theme song for Ronald Regan’s 1984 presidential campaign.
An article by Gray Group notes that “Country music often touches upon patriotism and the values that define America. Songs that celebrate the beauty of the nation, honor the sacrifices of the military, and reflect on the struggles and triumphs of everyday life strike a chord with many Americans, fostering a sense of unity and pride.”
Some say that country music reflects the soul and spirit of America. Perhaps, but what is the soul and spirit of America?
While I wouldn’t dare claim that I could articulate the soul and spirit of America, I will say that any explanation of this complicated question lies what is commonly known as the American Dream.
Welcome to our new series to kick-off 2024 — a presidential election year — that we call Country.
Our companion book for the six episodes of this series is written by a New York Times journalist, David Leonhardt. The title is Ours was the Shining Future: The Story of the American Dream. Leonhardt reflects on our country’s progress over the past century towards everyday folks reaching their hopes.
Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, James Truslow Adams, is credited for making the expression “American Dream” a household phrase. The crux of his assertion, according to Leonhardt, was the ability of ordinary persons to rise above the circumstances of their birth. The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s declared in his famous “I still have a dream,” speech at the March on Washington, “It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.”
Fundamentally, the America dream implies forward progress in terms of better, richer, and happier. Notably, political candidates since the beginning of the 21st century talk about restoring, rather than preserving, this dream. This is because for almost 50 years, incomes and wealth have grown little if any for most Americans, while they have surged for the wealthy.
In his introduction, Leonhardt asserts that while capitalism is the only proven economic system capable of making such a dream possible, that the version of capitalism in play today favors the powerful and enriches the wealthy at the expense of the rest.
Samuel told the people who were asking him for a king how a king treats you…A king will make soldiers of your children…A king will take your best fields, vineyards, and olive groves…You will become slaves. And when that time comes, you will complain bitterly because of your king, whom you chose.
Arguably, democracy itself is front and center in this year’s presidential election. After witnessing the first ever contested transfer of presidential power, after the last election, punctuated by an insurrection, most of us dread the rhetoric and over-the-top emotional reactions that will surely come.
Leonhardt carefully lays out evidence that democratic capitalism led to the successful realization of the American dream by most Americans. But this model of economics depends on an effective democracy that gives voice to the majority and prevents the concentration of power. Democratic capitalism is impractical in other forms of government, such as dictatorships or monarchies, where power lies at the top, and where only wealth and power have influence.
The Prophet Samuel oversaw the Israelites’ decision to change their form of government to a single source of power. The leaders, who claimed to represent the people, insisted on appointing a king to rule over them. God warned the people of the pitfalls of power concentrated in one person or office, but they insisted.
There is a lot at stake in this year’s election. I urge us to weigh the claims carefully and to use both our hearts and heads in discerning who receives your vote.
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Parts of our series was inspired by David Leonhardt. Ours was the Shining Future: The Story of the American Dream. New York: Penguin Random House, 2023.
Gray Group International. “Country Music: Telling America’s Stories,” © GGI Insights, August 31, 2023. Retrieved from: Link to Article