Paul Raggio | Is This the Start of Our Decline?

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I affirm that the United States is the greatest nation in the world. I affirm our founders’ brilliance in declaring independence and creating our Constitution with all the institutional checks and balances therein. 

I affirm our democratic republic and the ideals it stands for born over time. I affirm strong federal, state and local governments acting on behalf of the electorate. I affirm our citizens’ inalienable rights no matter creed, race, ethnicity, gender and sexual preference. I affirm our republic is one of equal justice, and no one person is above the law. I affirm our form of government has been the enduring symbol of democracy and opportunity for so many oppressed, downtrodden, poverty-stricken people in the world living under the control of autocratic, despotic leaders. 

And I affirm that our country, the one I love so much, is deeply, deeply flawed.   

Like many of you, I’m distraught over the events that occurred at our nation’s Capitol Jan. 6. Watching an unruly mob defile the citadel of our democracy, threatening lawmakers and their staff, and plundering both chambers of Congress is profoundly troubling. Outright thuggery caused multiple deaths. These actions, under any conditions by disenfranchised citizens expressing their grievances, is wholly unacceptable. Just as egregious was the crippled law enforcement response to a predictable event repeatedly announced through social media to millions. We, the citizens of this great nation, cannot allow this ever to happen again. 

I’m one of the fortunate few who spent four years walking the hallowed halls of our nation’s Capitol in different roles as a legislative liaison for the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and the secretary and chief of staff of the Army. Over the hundreds of times I stepped into that building, I felt the importance of what this structure housed and represented as the ultimate and unifying symbol of democracy, nationally and internationally. A sacredness exists, and should never be disrespected, in the Capitol’s multitude of halls, stairwells and chambers among the statuary that heard and continues to hear the voices of past and present elected representatives debate all the good and the bad of our nation. Their impassioned discourse advances our ideals through the deliberative, legislative, democratic process that has been the model for all nations since our preeminent emergence on the world stage. 

But I question, are we at an inflection point, a moment in our republic’s history where the consequential actions of some alter our nation’s direction from preeminence to something much less among Westernized countries? Have we lost our one true north on the moral compass among nations? History shows, democracies are fragile, easy to break, much harder to mend. Over the centuries, many countries emerged, flourished, dominated, then inflected, and subsequently declined. Is the Jan. 6 siege and desecration of the nation’s Capitol by our own citizens acting like an unruly, seditious mob our moment in time? Is this disgraceful event an inflection point and the start of our nation’s decline in global dominance? Every one of us should be asking ourselves this question, then taking affirmative, corrective action! 

The year 2020 has been fraught with tumultuous events: the arrival of a once-in-a-century pandemic causing untold fatalities and economic misfortune; the social unrest that led to several major city riots, destruction, death and lack of confidence in our men in women in blue; and the baseless, nevertheless vigorously claimed widespread election fraud that questions the legitimacy of the incoming administration. The outcome of these events are fissures that will take years, if ever, to repair. The culmination of these events may very well have been the kindling leading to the siege of the Capitol, displaying our nation’s flaws to the world at large.  

It’s time for introspection! Each of us must ask ourselves these questions. Have I contributed to our societal toxicity by divisive, vulgar, purposeless language in social media posts? Have I circulated theories lacking facts, challenging the very institutions and norms we affirm as a nation? Have I stoked the flames of division instead of planting the seeds of unity? Am I a positive contributor in my sphere of influence, whether at the dinner table with family, the school with classmates, work with teammates, city hall with council members, and halls of Congress with fellow legislators of both parties?  

Essential to your leadership success is personal responsibility. It’s tempting to point your finger at the flaws so recognizable in others. It’s much harder to account for your failings and then muster the will to correct them. Matthew 7:5 offers this reflection: “You hypocrite! First, remove the beam out of your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck out of your brother’s eye.” 

If we want to return to our past preeminent spot on the world stage, we must start with acknowledging our flaws, then affirm the ideals our nation represents and commit to upholding them. 

There is a shame we must endure to regain our moral footing. Nevertheless, I’m an optimist and recognize an opportunity in every crisis, even this shameful one. It’s time for us to take stock of our actions. Identify the beam in our own eyes. Make the necessary corrections. Then regain our footing as that beacon of light, so many nations look to, to find their true north on the moral compass to democracy. 

I continue to affirm that the United States of America is the greatest nation in the world and we have work to do to sustain this preeminence! 

Paul A. Raggio is co-owner, with his sister Lisa, of One True North INC Leadership and Business Coaching Solutions.

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