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Recently, a new national survey was released that should alarm every American and wake us up to an approaching danger. The survey, conducted by the Wall Street Journal and NORC at the University of Chicago, revealed that America has pulled back from the values that once defined it. This survey is conducted every 25 years, the last one in 1998, and is a snapshot in time as to how we, as Americans, prioritize the values we claim to cherish. Or at least, the values we once cherished.

The survey of 1,000 adults was conducted in August of 2019 and the results point to a disturbing trend in revealing attitudes that could cause a civil society to come unglued. It also found a country sharply divided by the battles waged by political parties over social and domestic issues.

The poll’s key findings include that only 38% of respondents said patriotism is very important to them, down sharply from 70% two decades earlier. The same survey showed shocking results when respondents were asked about the importance of religion; just 39% prioritize faith. Again, down from 62%. The last disturbing finding was the significant drop in value placed on family and children.

What does this say about the soul of the nation and the challenges we will face as we move deeper into the 21st century? Many are concerned that this grand experiment designed by our founding fathers is starting to crack, and this idea that we can govern ourselves may be nearing an end. A recent article written by Addison Smith for the conservative website, Just the News, featured a headline that read, “Are Liberal Handouts replacing the American Dream with a culture of entitlements?”

People often wonder what American Exceptionalism and The American Dream really mean, and if they still exist today. If you asked one hundred Americans for a definition of either, you would mostly likely get a hundred different answers. Popular conservative talk show host, Rush Limbaugh, was often asked how he would define those terms. On the question of American Exceptionalism, Limbaugh said that “in the broad sense,” it “is not a bunch of braggadocious words people say, ‘Yeah we’re better people. We have a better country. We are a higher class of people.’” Limbaugh pointed out, “That’s not what it is. America was and is today the exception to the way most human beings prior to America, lived”

What about The American Dream? Limbaugh often joked that, “There is no Russian Dream. There is no European Union Dream. There is no Chinese Communist Dream, except maybe to get out. But there is and always has been an American Dream. And the dream is still possible and can become real.”

There was an American named Bill who lived the American Dream. Bill was the 13th of 15 children. He dropped out of high school after his sophomore year so he could work on the family farm. When he was older, he left the farm and went to work for a man who owned a local grocery store. Along the way he learned about the business, and retail, and how to cut meat…he became a butcher.

While working at the store, he met a woman named Mary Claire. They dated for a short time and eventually got married in a simple ceremony by their Catholic priest. Bill’s dream was to own his own store, but he realized he had a long way to go and would have to leave the grocery store where he worked.

Six children came into the family and to support them, Bill would get up at 4:30 every morning, six days a week. He delivered bread, first to the students at two nearby colleges, and then back to the distribution center to fill up his truck again and head out on his normal route.

Upon arriving home, Bill would have dinner, always at 6:00 pm, and then head to his remodeled garage where he would cut meat until late into the evening. His customers included people who wanted their cows or pigs butchered, and during hunting season he would butcher deer and an occasional bear.

One day, while on his route, one of his customers asked Bill if he’d like to purchase his store. The store had serviced its small community for many years and was in need of a lot of fix up. Bill saw this as the opportunity he was waiting for. He rounded up the needed capital to purchase the store and in the short span of 12 years, Bill was able to build his business into a profitable venture

He then built a small café that he named after his youngest daughter, Jackie. He went on to build a liquor store and invest in several apartment complexes to satisfy the housing needs of nearby students. Bill became active in his community, serving on the local school board, and even made a run for higher political office.

Bill’s children all attended parochial school and the nuns who taught them never went hungry. Every month he made sure their kitchen was stocked with food, and always at no charge. He was consistently one of the first to step up in raising money for the community, and would often put the squeeze on others with means who weren’t as eager.

Bill’s life was cut short by a sudden heart attack at the age of 48. During his short life of hard work, dedication, and service, he lived the American Dream. Bill’s grocery store was named Arquette’s Superette with the slogan “If we don’t have it…you don’t need it.”

Bill was my father, a man I love and admire. A man who showed my siblings and me that through hard work, responsibility, and a little bit of luck, each of us can realize our American Dream.

There are many in this country trying to convince us that America and its dream are dead. They would tell you that government can provide everything you and your family need, from the cars you drive, to the electricity in your home, to the education your children will receive. This ‘generosity’ comes with a price.

The founding fathers envisioned a country where “We the People” govern ourselves and choose our own dreams, without interference from those elected to represent us. I still believe it’s possible for each of us to make our own way and millions of my fellow Americans, just like my father Bill, are working every day to realize their own exceptional dream.

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