I took a deep breath and approached a middle-aged man peering intently into a glass exhibit. After asking where he was from and what political party he affiliated with I got to my favorite question, “What does America mean to you?” I waited for the typical response concerning liberty, freedom, and the pursuit of happiness. When I only received silence my freshman awkwardness allowed me to stand and wait for an answer that probably wasn’t coming.
After a few seconds, he finally responded. The middle aged man from Maine had been all around the world and had even served for the American army. He told me America meant so much to him, he couldn’t even put it into words.
“Is America living up to that definition,” I asked him.
Again, he took a moment to think. The veteran with so much passion for our country and the values we were founded on finally answered with a sigh, “No.”
His answer stuck with me. As I wandered from museum to museum, democracy related street to street, I looked for the signs of inadequacy that the veteran saw. Surrounded by American flags, museums, and Obama 2012 bumper stickers, I couldn’t see it. What did he know that I didn’t? It wasn’t until a friend brought up how close we were to the debt ceiling that it became apparent.
The man from Maine was right. Our country was founded on liberty, prosperity, and freedom. Not partisan warfare that leads to lack of compromise. America’s top officials are too busy protecting their party than protecting the people.
Although this holds true, our government does not hold all the blame. As is the American way, civilians get riled up about the habits of our government, and are quickly distracted by celebrity babies and drama. What happened to the heated discussions about the fiscal cliff, gun control, and global Warming? Well, the same thing that happened to the Afghanistan War. They were out shadowed by Kimye and imaginary dead girlfriends; topics that may seem innocent, but are ultimately not. Distractions prevent us from seeing problems and deceptions. They prevent us from questioning and forming opinions. If there’s one reason America is not all that it could be, it’s because of our own short term memory.
As exciting as the inauguration is, it’s simply another distraction-a distraction that will surely make us forget about the changes that needs to happen.
So this inauguration, promise to yourself that you will remember how much our country needs to accomplish. Remember the soldiers at war, the school shootings, and the economy. We owe a long term memory not only to ourselves, but to the veterans like the man I met today.