On July 15, 1979, President Jimmy Carter addressed the nation with what has since been dubbed, ‘the Malaise Speech.” At the time the nation was embroiled in an energy crisis as OPEC (the Middle East group that provided a significant amount of our oil) had cut exports to us, causing gas shortages and long three hour waits at some gas stations. Carter addressed the energy crisis that night, but he also addressed what he thought was the bigger issue in America at that time. I quote, “The threat is nearly invisible in ordinary ways. It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will. We can see the crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our Nation.” Yes, the president saw the American people as a significant part of the problem. The president added later in the speech, “As you know there is a growing disrespect for government and for our churches and for schools, the news media, and other institutions. This is not a message of happiness, or reassurance, but it is the truth and it is a warning.”
I was drawn to this speech as I prepared to write my blog post because I believe President Carter’s speech could be delivered this week and still be spot on in describing America today. I believe we also have a crisis of confidence today. We don’t trust government. Church Sunday attendance has dropped significantly in the last few years, indicating we don’t trust that institution much anymore either. Public schools have long been whipping boys of local communities and now some people are even questioning the wisdom of sending their children to college where they’re liable to be brainwashed by the so called ‘liberal elite.’ Some believe that the divide in America along ideological and political lines threatens the very fabric of our beings. Our leaders don’t seem to have the answers. The American people in many ways appear to be catatonic and utterly rudderless. It’s as if we’re not descended from some of the strongest, hardest-working, determined people to ever walk the earth. I often wonder how our forebears would view Americans today. Would they be disappointed that so many of us blame government, the church, Wall Street, schools, our neighbors, just about any and every one for so many of OUR problems. Would they wonder why people believe that they alone can’t fix what ails them? Would they balk at the number of people who refuse to roll up their sleeves, getting to work, claiming the lives they believe they deserve?
I’m an African-American. My ancestors were slaves, yet they too built this great nation. I’m so proud of my ancestors because I doubt too many races of people could endure the pain and suffering that my ancestors endured, yet survive so that I can sit down in a public library and type out this blog post. I wonder how our ancestors would feel at the Black Lives Matter movement. Would they too get angry at anyone, including other African-Americans for daring to say or suggest that all lives matter? How would they feel about the voting percentages of African-Americans? The high school dropout rate? The crime rate? How would they tackle the issue of black on black crime?
We as Americans have a responsibility to ourselves and each other to make America, great. We don’t need politicians or slogans to fuel our actions. Everyone has the capability to make her or his situation better. In his speech, President Carter quoted a visitor to Camp David who said, “We’ve got to stop crying and start sweating, stop talking, and start walking, stop cursing, and start praying. The strength we need will not come from the White House, but from every house in America.” And he was right. We, all of us, have the power to make our own lives better. Somewhere along our journey from colonial times to now, we’ve forgotten that. WE have to get back our can-do spirit. It’s how we conquered the West. It’s how we put a man on the moon. It’s how African-Americans won freedom and the right to sit anywhere on a bus, be served at lunch counters, go to any school, and to vote.
All of our ancestors fought diligently for America to get to this point. They looked within and didn’t wait for others to do what they could do for themselves. Americans were Playmakers. I’ll explain the term in depth in future blog posts, but suffice it to say, a playmaker is someone who finds ways to win in whatever situation he or she finds him or herself in. No excuses. No alibis. Doing what is right and just, and getting the job done by any legal and ethical means necessary. We all have an inner playmaker within us. We all have the ability to improve our own situations, be it personally or professionally. We just need to be reminded of that simple fact every so often.