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Boyd Matheson: The 'dis-ease' of the nation can only be conquered with American confidence

Mourners embrace after bringing flowers to a makeshift memorial Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2019, for the slain and injured in the Oregon District after a mass shooting that occurred early Sunday morning, in Dayton, Ohio.
Mourners embrace after bringing flowers to a makeshift memorial Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2019, for the slain and injured in the Oregon District after a mass shooting that occurred early Sunday morning, in Dayton, Ohio.
John Minchillo, AP

In the wake of more mass shootings and the mourning which follows such tragedies, Americans have been left with rattled confidence, heightened fear and little trust in leaders and government. All of this leads to a palpable “dis-ease” in the country that — if left unchecked, untreated and unaddressed — will certainly devolve into the more devastating diseases of despair for the nation.

People are understandably on edge. When a sign fell during a concert at a local mall and someone yelled “shots,” there were anxious moments and a complete evacuation of the premises. A motorcycle engine backfiring in downtown New York City sent citizens scurrying into shops and hiding in alleyways. The American people aren’t used to such sustained stress and are fortunately unfamiliar with what citizens in other societies, even free and democratic countries, regularly deal with by way of bombs threats, blasts and terrorist activity.

Watching the dysfunction in Washington adds to the dis-ease of the nation. Politicians are more interested in red-hot rhetorical rants and political posturing than they are in common-sense solutions, proven American principles and time-tested moral values. Many citizens have dropped their shoulders in exasperated disbelief while dropping their heads in an expression of devastated defeat.

After bowing their heads in such tragic and trying moments, Americans have historically squared those shoulders and looked up — to true leaders and the heavens above.

Real leaders often sound the clarion call and send a certain signal that there is a confident way forward. Bobby Kennedy delivered one of the greatest speeches in American history after the assassination of Martin Luther King standing on the back of a truck in a potentially hostile environment. From a place of authentic understanding and courageous vulnerability, he called for love and not hate to carry the day. George W. Bush stood on a pile of rubble after 9/11, shouted encouragement to first responders and united the nation.

Forgotten for most citizens is that following the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, it was Eleanor Roosevelt who first addressed the nation. Her husband’s words about “a date which will live in infamy” are often quoted, but Eleanor Roosevelt may have had the better, more powerful and more applicable message for such a devastating day.

In her weekly radio program she acknowledged the tragic event and assured the nation that leaders in Washington were working on a strategy for national security. She revealingly shared her anxiety for her son in the service, who was at sea, and her concern for her other children who lived on the West Coast. She spoke to the military, to the women of the country and to the young people of the nation who would need to step up. She declared that the rock of her faith for our future was in her fellow citizens.

She closed by saying, “We must go about our daily business more determined than ever to do the ordinary things as well as we can and when we find a way to do anything more in our communities to help others, to build morale, to give a feeling of security, we must do it. Whatever is asked of us I am sure we can accomplish it. We are the free and unconquerable people of the United States of America.”

The dis-ease that hovers over the nation will not evaporate on its own. It must be dispelled with American confidence. American confidence is never arrogance. Confidence is not found in chest-thumping, attention-grabbing politicians. Confidence is not derived from bombastic name-calling, scapegoat blaming or the belittling of others. Confidence is not found in anger and angst, fear or frustration.

True confidence is quiet confidence. Such confidence comes from doing the small and seemingly insignificant things Eleanor Roosevelt discussed in 1941. As a country and as individuals, we need not cower in the corner or passively drudge our way toward decline. Instead, we can and must stand up, speak out and stand together as confident examples of everything that is good and all that is right in America.

The way out of dis-ease and the way up to quiet confidence for America has nothing to do with politics, something to do with policy, more to do with principles, and everything to do with people.