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The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.
By Robert Brescia
July 5, 2016
What does it mean to be an American in the second decade of the 21st century? Should we seek to recreate previous periods of American greatness in our present times? Is that even possible? Can one be an American nationalist, patriot or believer in American exceptionalism as an ideological liberal? What can the role of a public administrator be in supporting a new Americanism?
These are tough questions with no definitive answers. Our nation has changed considerably since past periods of perceived greatness. For one thing, the demographics have really changed. What used to be largely white, European-descended peoples is now almost a half other-than-white citizenry. Predictions suggest that by the year 2043, whites will become the minority group in our population.
While administrations may cycle back and forth, from conservative to liberal, no one can deny our nation’s changing social fabric. The smart money is on those who not only recognize these changes, but jump to the fore to support their accommodation so as to keep us great, both now and in the future.
Do we have to go backward to go forward?
We cannot go back to the 1950s or the 1990s seeking to recreate a greatness that ran through the country’s veins during those decades. It is not possible to recreate the context of a previous social decade or period. It is, however, possible to identify and resuscitate the principles and values that were applied in citizen’s behaviors during those times. Perhaps we have fallen short of doing just that in recent times and we are therefore faced with many annoying rips and tears in our own social fabric. Our behaviors are often not supportive of our beliefs. In other words, whether we are young or old, we just do as great a job at walking our talk.
This new social alienation has not reared its ugly head since the last half of the 1960s when many dropped out and tuned out of engaging with American society. The Vietnam War was a totally polarizing lightning rod for almost every conceivable protest of government and leadership. What can we do about the worsening degree of social alienation by youth? What can those charged with executing public functions do? Are they expressly forbidden to join in the coming wave of excitement around a new Americanism?
I believe that public servants and administrators should take leading roles and serve as models of the new Americanism. They are very visible people so their actions should have a much stronger and pervasive impact. They should engage in nonpartisan areas of Americanism, impressing on youth their desire to join in a team of teams to achieve greatness for us all, not just one political party, one ideology or one class of people. The public administrator’s watchword for creating this new Americanism is inclusion – a wonderful 21st century American value.
Some other values that public servants can model in their everyday behaviors are unity, truth, passion, perseverance, benevolence, leadership, optimism, daring, spirituality, community, inclusion, love and civility.
The spiritual component of the new Americanism
Public people, don’t forget to model your spirituality as an American leader. The spiritual component of leadership is a powerful one. It can be as important as a leader using humor to encourage people toward achieving shared goals. It also shows humility which many people admire as a trait in a leader.
Americans are a spiritual people. Even an American atheist can and does demonstrate spiritual leadership by caring for those who need it the most. The link between secular individualism and spiritual leadership is ethics – a characteristic and quality of the new Americanism. It’s inside of you so let it show through your behaviors.
Become a statesman or stateswoman
What exactly is a statesman? Well, the short dictionary definition is, “a usually wise, skilled and respected government leader.” Another description might be someone who is experienced in the principles or art of government; someone dynamically engaged in directing the business of a government or in determining its policies.
Public leaders and servants are stewards of people and resources, sometimes in very large measure. Therefore, they are not so unlike public office holders and appointees in the practical reality of their profession. They should strive to be statesmen and stateswomen in the larger sense of the word. Henry Kissinger said, “The statesman’s duty is to bridge the gap between his nation’s experience and his vision.” Being a statesman is a cornerstone of fulfilling civic responsibilities in our new Americanism.
You can’t go backward to achieve greatness. Babe Ruth was fond of saying, “You can’t win today’s ballgames with yesterday’s home runs.” The urgency of now is truly a fierce one, to borrow and slightly transform a famous phrase from an American hero, Martin Luther King.
Think what you can do today, this very day as you are reading this, to help ensure the creation and durability of a new Americanism – filled with inclusive, benevolent and courageous people.
Author: Bob Brescia is the executive director of the John Ben Shepperd Public Leadership Institute in Odessa, Texas. He has a doctoral degree with distinction in executive leadership from The George Washington University. His experience includes top leadership roles in education, business, government and defense. Bob’s passion is to speak and write about the New Americanism. Email: [email protected] or Twitter @Robert_Brescia.