Crisis of Confidence

This entry is part of 2 in the seriesCrisis of Confidence
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I recently heard an interview with a top US politician (more on that later), although it wasn’t likely intentional, her words alluded to a crisis of confidence that we are dealing with as a nation.  In the coming days, you might hear more about her inartful and poorly chosen words.  Of course, knowing the media these days, there might not be much about it at all.  But there certainly should be.

That got me watching another speech from another American politician.  Below are some excerpts.  Read them, and ponder them as you read.  They affected me.  The words seemed to directly apply to America now, maybe even more than they did when they were spoken.  As I listened, I longed for them to be spoken to our country and our people.

My notes on how I’ve represented the text are here

The politician’s speech

…[Recent events] confirmed my belief in the decency and the strength and the wisdom of the American people, but it also bore out some of my longstanding concerns about our nation’s underlying problems…

… But after listening to the American people, I have been reminded again that all the legislation in the world can’t fix what’s wrong with America. So, I want to speak to you first tonight about a subject even more serious than [policy]. I want to talk to you right now about a fundamental threat to American democracy.

I do not mean our political and civil liberties. They will endure. And I do not refer to the outward strength of America, a nation that is at peace tonight everywhere in the world, with unmatched economic power and military might.

The threat is nearly invisible in ordinary ways.

It is a crisis of confidence.

It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will. We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our nation.

The erosion of our confidence in the future is threatening to destroy the social and the political fabric of America.

The confidence that we have always had as a people is not simply some romantic dream or a proverb in a dusty book that we read just on the Fourth of July. It is the idea which founded our nation and has guided our development as a people. Confidence in the future has supported everything else — public institutions and private enterprise, our own families, and the very Constitution of the United States. Confidence has defined our course and has served as a link between generations. We’ve always believed in something called progress. We’ve always had a faith that the days of our children would be better than our own.

Our people are losing that faith, not only in government itself but in the ability as citizens to serve as the ultimate rulers and shapers of our democracy. As a people we know our past and we are proud of it. Our progress has been part of the living history of America, even the world. We always believed that we were part of a great movement of humanity itself called democracy, involved in the search for freedom; and that belief has always strengthened us in our purpose. But just as we are losing our confidence in the future, we are also beginning to close the door on our past.

In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we’ve discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We’ve learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose.

The symptoms of this crisis of the American spirit are all around us. For the first time in the history of our country a majority of our people believe that the next five years will be worse than the past five years. Two-thirds of our people do not even vote. The productivity of American workers is actually dropping, and the willingness of Americans to save for the future has fallen below that of all other people in the Western world.

As you know, there is a growing disrespect for government and for 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.

These changes did not happen overnight. They’ve come upon us gradually over the last generation, years that were filled with shocks and tragedy…

…Looking for a way out of this crisis, our people have turned to the Federal Government and found it isolated from the mainstream of our nation’s life. Washington, D.C., has become an island. The gap between our citizens and our government has never been so wide. The people are looking for honest answers, not easy answers; clear leadership, not false claims and evasiveness and politics as usual.

What you see too often in Washington and elsewhere around the country is a system of government that seems incapable of action. You see a Congress twisted and pulled in every direction by hundreds of well-financed and powerful special interests.

You see every extreme position defended to the last vote, almost to the last breath by one unyielding group or another. You often see a balanced and a fair approach that demands sacrifice, a little sacrifice from everyone, abandoned like an orphan without support and without friends.

Often you see paralysis and stagnation and drift. You don’t like it, and neither do I. What can we do?

First of all, we must face the truth, and then we can change our course. We simply must have faith in each other, faith in our ability to govern ourselves, and faith in the future of this nation. Restoring that faith and that confidence to America is now the most important task we face. It is a true challenge of this generation of Americans.

One of the [people that I recently spoke to put it this way], “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.”

We know the strength of America. We are strong. We can regain our unity. We can regain our confidence. We are the heirs of generations who survived threats much more powerful and awesome than those that challenge us now. Our [ancestors] were strong men and women who shaped a new society during the Great Depression, who fought world wars and who carved out a new charter of peace for the world.

We ourselves are the same Americans who…put a man on the moon. We are the generation that dedicated our society to the pursuit of human rights and equality. And we are the generation that will…rebuild the unity and confidence of America.

We are at a turning point in our history. There are two paths to choose. One is a path I’ve warned about tonight, the path that leads to fragmentation and self-interest. Down that road lies a mistaken idea of freedom, the right to grasp for ourselves some advantage over others. That path would be one of constant conflict between narrow interests ending in chaos and immobility. It is a certain route to failure.

All the traditions of our past, all the lessons of our heritage, all the promises of our future point to another path — the path of common purpose and the restoration of American values. That path leads to true freedom for our nation and ourselves. We can take the first steps down that path as we begin to solve our energy problem…

…Little by little we can and we must rebuild our confidence. We can spend until we empty our treasuries, and we may summon all the wonders of science. But we can succeed only if we tap our greatest resources — America’s people, America’s values, and America’s confidence.

I have seen the strength of America in the inexhaustible resources of our people. In the days to come, let us renew that strength in the struggle for an energy-secure nation.

In closing, let me say this: I will do my best, but I will not do it alone. Let your voice be heard. Whenever you have a chance, say something good about our country. With God’s help and for the sake of our nation, it is time for us to join hands in America. Let us commit ourselves together to a rebirth of the American spirit. Working together with our common faith we cannot fail.

Thank you and good night.

This forms the bulks of a very famous speech given by an American President, although not for the reasons you might think.  You’ve likely never really heard this speech in its entirety, just as I hadn’t.  I have seen small excerpts.  You likely have too, or at least possibly heard this speech referenced.

OK, OK…I’ll tell you who gave it and when.  Scroll down for the reveal.

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The speech was given by former President Jimmy Carter on July 15th, 1979.  He gave it live on American TV from the oval office.  It’s formal name is “A Crisis of Confidence,” but you might know it by its better-known nickname.  It’s commonly called “the malaise speech.”  You can watch the whole, 33 minute address here. Oddly enough, Carter did not use the word “malaise” anywhere in the speech at all.  Not one time.

But the reality was that Carter was just not a strong president, and he was dealing with bigger crises than many presidents could successfully face.  In the election of 1980 (a year and 9+ months later) he was destroyed by Reagan’s landslide victory.  He should have been.

In the biggest section that I cut out, Carter talks about some policy decisions for cutting our dependance on foreign oil quite decisively, growing our own energy production, and developing solar energy capabilities.  All of this seems to make a lot of sense for the times.  He also talks about turning the thermostat down at home and patriotically parking your car an extra day of the week.  That doesn’t sound like a strong leader at all.

But, the bulk of the speech was what Americans needed to hear, and I think it’s what we need to hear now.

At the climax, he says,

“Little by little we can and we must rebuild our confidence. We can spend until we empty our treasuries, and we may summon all the wonders of science. But we can succeed only if we tap our greatest resources — America’s people, America’s values, and America’s confidence.”

I wanted to stand up and applaud.  These days we won’t spend our way out of the Covid crisis, rampant inflation (that’s a big part of how we got here anyway), racial strife, huge percentages of Americans who just don’t want to go to work anymore, or any of our other giant problems.

Modern science has given us things like Covid vaccines, fleets of electric cars and trucks, and private space ships.  But our problem isn’t really energy, inflation, climate change, or a world-wide pandemic.  Yes, those are problems for sure, and they aren’t small ones at that.

But the real problems we face are 3-fold, as I see it. 

1- A Crisis of Confidence in Our Leaders

We have a country that many of our people no longer even really like, and leaders that are not representative of the best among us at all.  Most Americans see our main institutions as both dishonest and not respectable.  And we have a political system that seems to not be able to even recognize that it is severely out-of-step with most Americans.

2- A Crisis of Confidence in Our Faith

We have a crisis of faith, whereby we have turned our collective backs on the spiritual foundations that led to us being a great people. 

3- A Crisis of Confidence in Our History

We have forgotten and rewritten our history as a nation.  Turning our backs on the principles, people, and structures that created the societal glue that held us together, and teaching our children lessons that are not honest about our collective history has turned us into a collection of tribes.  These tribes don’t even see themselves as one nation, they see their tribes as a nation, and others outside of their group as hostile foreigners.

I’ve written recently about how I expect this year to be a challenging one for people all over the world, and Americans particularly. I believe strongly that solving these three challenges facing our country will be key to us overcoming a difficult time.

Over the next few posts, I’ll deal with these three points directly.  We’ll see how these areas need to be changed in order for us to return to a healthy country.  Unfortunately, if we do not set about fixing these 3 things, there are two directions that are possible for our nation, and I see these as a complete inevitability.  We will either break up into smaller nations or worse, we will redefine America into something that is very different and opposite in many ways from what made us a successful country.

But, there is also great hope.  If we, in the words of Carter, start walking, sweating, and praying, then we can tackle these problems.  We can emerge triumphant, and return to that place as a great, shining city on a hill that the nations of the world saw as a beacon of freedom.

For the quoted section

I have removed parts that applied specifically to the situation of that day, and some that alluded to current events of that time, as well as sections in the beginning that don’t flow as well to the reader.  I’ve also removed anything that indicates who is directly giving the speech.   I don’t want the reader to get any preconception of what to think based on a sense of who is speaking.  I’ve added or replaced words at times where it wouldn’t make sense otherwise. 

I have always put those inside brackets [].  I’ve put ellipses … in places where I’ve removed something. 

There is one main section I’ve deleted that talks specifically about proposed policy, and I’ve talked about that after the quoted section.  Other than that, I’ve tried to copy and paste with no other editing.

Here’s the full text of the address.

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