President Ronald Reagan understood politics in terms of what ordinary Americans care about. One of my favorite Reagan quotes came from his farewell address, which is in the video above : “And let me offer lesson number one about America: All great change in America begins at the dinner table.” My husband’s favorite Reagan “quote” was when Reagan, in a mic check, jokingly said, “My fellow Americans, I’m pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.” My husband, being used to dark military humor, found that Reagan quip hilarious.
A few days ago, Reagan’s farewell address popped into my head, as I was pondering the recent aggressive statue-toppling and revisionist history demands. That speech contains a simple line about the good common sense wisdom of the American people, but sadly families sitting around the kitchen table engaged in family discussions isn’t the norm anymore. Several years ago I wrote a blog post about 21st century American leadership. I used this Reagan dinner table quote and even in 2013, family dinners seemed to be on decline across America:
” One of the saddest commentaries in recent years on the state of America, came from pop culture icon, Oprah Winfrey, who devoted an entire show to teaching American parents the importance of finding time for family dinners. Despite the statistics on divorce, out of wedlock births and the steady mass media messaging, the importance of the American family emerged on Oprah, with a host of “experts” on hand, to teach us about family dinner time. Millions of Oprah followers, I am sure, began talking amongst their friends and just as they buy the books she recommends, most assuredly many started trying to fit family dinners into their weekly schedule. How do family dinners and the quest for American leadership fit together? In our fast-paced, multi-tasking society, few common threads strengthen the waft and weave of our national fabric, so perhaps the family dinner table emerges as the place to begin this quest.”
Reagan, also issued a warning about how we need to teach American children our history and about freedom to foster informed patriotism. He worried that the people who create our popular culture had stopped promoting positive American messaging. And Reagan was right.
Here’s the entire passage about remembering our American history, from Reagan’s farewell speech:
“Finally, there is a great tradition of warnings in Presidential farewells, and I’ve got one that’s been on my mind for some time. But oddly enough it starts with one of the things I’m proudest of in the past 8 years: the resurgence of national pride that I called the new patriotism. This national
feeling is good, but it won’t count for much, and it won’t last unless it’s grounded in thoughtfulness and knowledge.
An informed patriotism is what we want. And are we doing a good enough job teaching our children what America is and what she represents in the long history of the world? Those of us who are over 35 or so years of age grew up in a different America. We were taught, very directly, what it means to be an American. And we absorbed, almost in the air, a love of country and an appreciation of its institutions. If you didn’t get these things from your family you got them from the neighborhood, from the father down the street who fought in Korea or the family who lost someone at Anzio. Or you could get a sense of patriotism from school. And if all else failed you could get a sense of patriotism from the popular culture. The movies celebrated democratic values and implicitly reinforced the idea that America was special. TV was like that,
too, through the mid-sixties.
But now, we’re about to enter the nineties, and some things have changed. Younger parents aren’t sure that an unambivalent appreciation of America is the right thing to teach modern children. And as for those who create the popular culture, well-grounded patriotism is no longer the style. Our spirit is back, but we haven’t reinstitutionalized it. We’ve got to do a better job of getting
across that America is freedom — freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of enterprise. And freedom is special and rare. It’s fragile; it needs production [protection].
So, we’ve got to teach history based not on what’s in fashion but what’s important — why the Pilgrims came here, who Jimmy Doolittle was, and what those 30 seconds over Tokyo meant. You know, 4 years ago on the 40th anniversary of D – day, I read a letter from a young woman writing to her late father, who’d fought on Omaha Beach. Her name was Lisa Zanatta Henn, and she said, “we will always remember, we will never forget what the boys of Normandy did.” Well, let’s help her keep her word. If we forget what we did, we won’t know who we are. I’m warning of an eradication of the American memory that could result, ultimately, in an erosion of the American spirit. Let’s start with some basics: more attention to American history and a greater emphasis on civic ritual.
And let me offer lesson number one about America: All great change in America begins at the dinner table. So, tomorrow night in the kitchen I hope the talking begins. And children, if your parents haven’t been teaching you what it means to be an American, let ’em know and nail ’em on it. That would be a very American thing to do.”
To understand what happened, we need to go back to the turmoil of the 1960s and look at radical student activism that spread across American university campuses and the rise of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) .
“The Sixties were born at a particular time and place: June, 1962, the AFL-CIO camp at Port Huron, Michigan. (There were preliminary stirrings in parts of the civil rights movement and in the Free Speech movement at Berkeley.) Though most Americans have never heard of the proceedings at Port Huron, they were crucial, for the authentic spirit of Sixties radicalism issued there. That spirit spread and evolved afterwards, but its later malignant stages, including its violence, were implicit in its birth. Port Huron was an early convention of SDS, then a small group of alienated, left-wing college students. There were fifty-nine delegates from eleven campus chapters. One of them described their mood: “four-square against anti-Communism, eight-square against American culture, twelve-square against sellout unions, one-hundred-twenty square against an interpretation of the Cold War that saw it as a Soviet plot and identified American policy fondly.”21 In short, they rejected America. Worse, as their statement of principles made clear, they were also foursquare against the nature of human beings and features of the world that are unchangeable. That is the Utopian impulse. It has produced disasters in the past, just as it was to do with the Sixties generation.”
Bork, Robert H.. Slouching Towards Gomorrah: Modern Liberalism and American Decline . HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
In the early 70s the massive waves of college protesting had burned out and then those radical activist student leaders finished college, many earned advanced degrees and then they took up positions in academia, where they became tenured professors. They took up the task of radicalizing college curricula and American students ever since. Just to give one glaring example of this transformation of higher-education in America, let’s look at Bill Ayers, co-founder of the violent, radical 60s, Weather Underground group:
“In June 1969, the Weathermen took control of the SDS at its national convention, where Ayers was elected Education Secretary. Later in 1969, Ayers participated in planting a bomb at a statue dedicated to police casualties in the 1886 Haymarket affair confrontation between labor supporters and the Chicago police. The blast broke almost 100 windows and blew pieces of the statue onto the nearby Kennedy Expressway. (The statue was rebuilt and unveiled on May 4, 1970, and blown up again by other Weathermen on October 6, 1970. Rebuilding it yet again, the city posted a 24-hour police guard to prevent another blast, and in January 1972 it was moved to Chicago police headquarters).
Ayers participated in the Days of Rage riot in Chicago in October 1969, and in December was at the “War Council” meeting in Flint, Michigan. Two major decisions came out of the “War Council”. The first was to immediately begin a violent, armed struggle (e.g., bombings and armed robberies) against the state without attempting to organize or mobilize a broad swath of the public. The second was to create underground collectives in major cities throughout the country. Larry Grathwohl, a Federal Bureau of Investigation informant in the Weathermen group from the fall of 1969 to the spring of 1970, stated that “Ayers, along with Bernardine Dohrn, probably had the most authority within the Weathermen”.
After the Greenwich Village townhouse explosion in 1970, in which Weatherman member Ted Gold, Ayers’s close friend Terry Robbins, and Ayers’s girlfriend, Diana Oughton, were killed when a nail bomb being assembled in the house exploded, Ayers and several associates evaded pursuit by law enforcement officials. Kathy Boudin and Cathy Wilkerson survived the blast. Ayers was not facing criminal charges at the time, but the federal government later filed charges against him. Ayers participated in the bombings of New York City Police Department headquarters in 1970, the United States Capitol building in 1971, and the Pentagon in 1972, as he noted in his 2001 book, Fugitive Days. Ayers writes:
Although the bomb that rocked the Pentagon was itsy-bitsy—weighing close to two pounds—it caused ‘tens of thousands of dollars’ of damage. The operation cost under $500, and no one was killed or even hurt.
From the same Wikipedia bio of Bill Ayers:
“Ayers is a retired professor in the College of Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, formerly holding the titles of Distinguished Professor of Education and Senior University Scholar. During the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign, a controversy arose over his contacts with then-candidate Barack Obama. He is married to lawyer and Clinical Law Professor Bernardine Dohrn, who was also a leader in the Weather Underground.”
Ayers, now a retired professor focused on “education reform.” Really, you can’t make this stuff up. So, here’s a Bill Ayers endorsement of the BLM movement in a 2016 Frontier Lab research project, by Anne Sorock:
“There’s a lot of mythology behind Black Lives Matter, assuming the only reason this is happening is because of social media and because of the use of cameras. That is fundamentally false. What is exciting is that the Black Lives Matter moment comes after decades and centuries of the serial assassination of black people.
The driving force of Black Lives Matter is organized young people who have been mobilizing for years around a lot of issues. Black Lives Matter’s focus is state violence against black people. Its focus is also decent education, ‘stop closing our schools,’ jobs for everybody, health care, mental health, drug programs.
It is a comprehensive movement, and the folks involved in it in Chicago are long-time organizers.
Professor and Convicted Terrorist Bill Ayers
University of Illinois-Chicago (ret.)
October 30, 2015
Jack Fowler at National Review wrote a piece, Black Lives Matter: A Thing of the Left Anchored on a Cop-Hate Strategy, explaining the BLM movement that’s worth a read. Fowler laid out BLM goals as follows:
“Here in sum are the report’s major findings:
• Black Lives Matter’s core message is built upon, depends upon, and has as its ultimate goal, the larger retelling of the American story as one of oppression and racism.
• The police, as representatives of the state, must be framed as exemplifying the Black Lives Matter framing by being themselves oppressive and racist.
• Black Lives Matter frames their cause as one against a systemic problem and necessarily utterly rejects the “one bad apple” counterargument
• BLM relies upon the elevation and equating of other underprivileged groups to a status “just as oppressed” as Black America in order to build a narrative of an America divided into the “Oppressed and the Privileged.” For this reason causes such as undocumented workers, LGBTQ, and women’s reproductive rights, are recruited and welcomed into the “Allies” category of supporters.
• Supporters of BLM, for the most part, have moved on from desiring to silence dissent through amending free-speech laws; instead, Black Lives Matter (1) pressures authorities to do it for them, (2) creates an atmosphere of intimidation through threats of violence and shows of force, and (3) incorporates a culture of self-censorship in which those with “privilege” have a lesser voice than the oppressed.
• While social-media and cameras are utilized uniquely and effectively to communicate with and recruit new supporters, it is the framework of organizing learned from past attempts and overarching magna-narrative that in reality gives Black Lives Matter its edge.
• There are three distinct segments of supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement, each with their own emotional pathways to a deeply felt connection: Activists, Allies, and Operatives. These mental maps explain current reasons for support as well as provide strategic pathways for weakening that same support.
• Common across all segments is the emotion of fear of being ostracized from the left’s cultural community.
• The speciﬁcity of the cause – injustice toward the Black community – is both central to its appeal and also a window into an Achilles-heel weakness of the movement’s core positioning.
• The movement is at a critical juncture in its lifecycle, with maximum cultural inﬂuence but having failed to transition this inﬂuence into policy impact.”
America’s current radical leftist protesting began with demanding justice for George Floyd, but their demands and targets for “transformation” keep shifting and growing, while their new “rules” spew forth faster than most of us can even keep track of. The main goal, beyond all the current target lists, really is all about erasing our American history, in order to “reimagine” an entirely different American future. The goal of rewriting American history underpins this Great Awokening.
Reagan was right. We really need to start teaching our children about American history and why freedom matters, but we also need to work on trying to teach plenty of American adults that too. The challenge America faces goes way beyond preserving statues or Trump’s building a garden of statues, it goes to beginning the long march back to wrest control of our institutions from radical leftists, who hate America and begin the arduous process of peacefully and cheerfully working to restore some pride in believing in America, as an idea that changed the world. The idea of America has inspired a love of freedom and a belief in the limitless potential of free individuals to achieve their dreams since America’s founding and it’s an idea that can kindle that flame of liberty again.
The thing about Americans placing all their hopes in presidential elections to change the course of America misses the reality that unless we begin the arduous process of changing American culture, we will keep ending up with presidents who are corrupt, amoral and a reflection of our declining culture. We can’t wave a magic wand and transform America into Reagan’s oft mentioned “shining city on a hill,” but each of us who is concerned about America’s future can begin the change in ourselves, within our own family and within our circle of friends and community. Each little positive change, focusing on the good that dwells in the hearts of millions of Americans might add up to a transformed country quicker than any of us thought possible, if we just start believing in the spirit of America again.
It’s way past time to stop indoctrinating Americans to hate America and start humbly, but determinedly, steering America in another direction. If we all put in our oars and row together, we can change course and achieve anything..