Book Summary: Dear America by Graham Allen

Quick Summary: In Dear America, you’ll learn what it means to recapture the spirit of September 11, 2001, how TV dinners have contributed to the decline of American culture, and why division is something to celebrate rather than condemn.

No one can ever forget what happened on September 11, 2001. But we must not overlook the events of September 12. In the wake of the tragedy, people of different ethnicities, political persuasions, and religious beliefs in the United States united under a common banner: to be Americans.

Twenty years later, that sense of national unity and solidarity has faded. Americans have become increasingly intolerant of one another, turning against their fellow citizens and predicting a bleak future for American democracy.

You don’t have to read the whole book if you don’t have time. This summary will provide you with an overview of everything you can learn from this book.

Without further ado, let’s get started.

Lesson 1: As soon as community ceased to be the center of American life, things went wrong

The mashed potatoes were frozen. Unknown meat. Vegetable dross. Packaged gravy in a bag. Plastic wrap that is extremely thin. A TV dinner may not seem like much at first glance. But what if I told you that this seemingly innocuous innovation contributed to the decline of American democracy?

[That seems like quite a stretch, does not it? But what the heck, let us take a look behind the curtain.

Dinner was a staple of American life before the popularity of frozen dinners came along in the 1950s. Every night, after dinner, the whole family would gather around the table to say grace and talk about the days gone by. Then people like Swanson showed up.

Thanks to this new ease, families could prepare a meal in no time, sit down in front of the TV and devour it without saying a word. People started tuning each other out and focusing on the talking heads in their TVs.

The breakdown of the nuclear family caused people in the United States to become increasingly self-centered. Electric garage doors entered American households around the same time as the TV dinner. The community-wide impact has been similarly negative.

People used to gather with their neighbors on the streets and in the driveways in the morning before heading to work. The introduction of automatic garage doors put an end to these gatherings. Suddenly, “We the People” were only concerned with ourselves; it became possible to commute to work without ever coming into contact with a single member of the community again.

While things like TV dinners and automatic garage doors may seem like harmless innovations, they actually had a profoundly negative effect on American culture. The supports of regular existence gradually collapsed, and in their place a new system was erected based on isolation, selfishness, impatience, and intolerance.

The people of the United States began to place the needs of the individual above those of society as a whole. They stopped communicating with each other and began to live only in their own heads. As they increasingly rely on technology, they expect instant gratification.

They want more and more convenience and comfort, preferring to do as little as possible with their time and effort. In the noise of the modern world, they lost their moral compass and replaced “In God We Trust” with “In God We Barely Believe.”

And when you add it all up, what do you get? America’s future looks bleak.

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Lesson 2: Homogeneous groupthink is unhealthy; diversity of thought is healthy

Of course, America’s cultural decline did not begin with TV dinners and automatic garage doors. The advent of social media enabled millions of people to abandon all sense of propriety, express views they would never dare say aloud, and waste precious hours in toxic online communities.

An ideology of “I am right, you are wrong, shut up” quickly gained popularity. Many began to view dissenters as harmful outsiders. How dare they disagree with me! became the unspoken sentiment.

The problem is that America has always been divided, and that’s a good thing.

In a history book, you will be able to read how strife has always moved the United States forward.

The Civil War, which tore the United States in two in the nineteenth century, led to the abolition of slavery. The Nineteenth Amendment, which gave women the right to vote, was ratified in 1920 thanks to a variety of perspectives. Clearly, without these two turning points, the United States would not exist as we know it today.

In fact, without a broad spectrum of viewpoints, the United States would not exist at all. During the Revolutionary War, a group of radicals fought the British and paved the way for democracy in the United States. Many people seem to have forgotten that the freedoms and way of life they enjoy today are the direct result of division.

Development simply comes from a lack of unity. Conversely, conformity comes at a high price, and homogeneous thinking inhibits innovation.

No one in the United States of America should try to get everyone to agree with them. That they can express their dissenting viewpoints without fear of legal consequences is a privilege not enjoyed by all citizens of all nations.

Communication without hostility is something that should be praised, not criticized. To take back their country, citizens must learn to agree to disagree civilly. There is no such thing as disagreement; diversity is the cornerstone of democracy. Equally important, the right to express oneself freely applies to everyone, not just those with whom one agrees.

Never forget that “America the Beautiful” is a place where you can disagree, but still be proud to call yourself an American. That’s the American way, and it’s the best way to move things forward.

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Lesson 3: It is common for Americans to misunderstand their basic rights

To reclaim their nation, Americans must abandon the false hope that they have a right to lasting happiness.

The Declaration of Independence explicitly states the rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” for the American people. The Founders were judicious in their choice of vocabulary. Happiness cannot be guaranteed in the same way as its pursuit.

Happiness is a byproduct of effort; it is not something handed to people on a silver platter.

If you follow this line of thinking, Americans are not entitled to anything. They are not entitled to material prosperity. They have no right to a more luxurious and spacious home than their neighbors. They have no right to rejoice in the results of elections or the ordinary happenings of their country. They owe nothing to America except the freedom to find fulfillment in their lives.

The United States of America has also given its citizens the important opportunity to fail. If you look around, you will find that many people in the United States are afraid to fail.

Students across the country are given an abundance of participation trophies that give them the message that they are winners just because they are alive. This also poisons the United States because it promotes a culture of entitlement.

Disappointments and failures are constant companions. No one can expect to go through life with their hands out and have others magically bestow success and fulfillment upon them. Each and every one of us in the United States is responsible for our own satisfaction. Neither the neighbors nor the government should be held responsible. It cannot be taken away from them.

The phrase “Be all you can be” served as a recruiting slogan for the United States Army for 20 years. The phrase “Be all you want to be” was not included. This was for a reason.

You do not have to be a genius to want a million dollars. Everyone has the right to aspire to the presidency of the United States. They are even free to harbor unicorn ambitions. They can be as ambitious as they want, but they will get absolutely nothing for their trouble.

These are the things that must be taught in schools so that children can grow up healthy and successful. To take back America, its citizens must accept that they will never all be happy. It can not and will not happen because it was never meant to. The truth hurts, but it always wins in the end.

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Lesson 4: America’s salvation lies in recovering the spirit of September 12

One of the darkest days in American history, September 11, 2001, will never be forgotten. However, a remarkable event took place the following day.

On September 12, there was no longer a difference between the coasts. It made no difference whether one identified as liberal, conservative, rich, poor, gay, straight, black, white, male, female, religious or not.

People found meaning in their grief and came together as Americans in the face of adversity. They stood together because they were all Americans first and foremost.

A terrible tragedy had just occurred in the United States. But America did not disintegrate because its citizens stuck together, put national pride above petty disagreements, and resolved to fight to the death to protect their great nation.

Americans must act now as if it were September 11 if the nation’s dark cloud is ever to lift. A possible date for the founding of the United States is July 4, 1776, but the fate of the nation was decided on September 12, 2001.

Unfortunately, time has once again driven a wedge between American citizens. But now they must put aside their differences, overcome their pride, and work together to preserve the place they call home.

Making enemies of dissenters, silencing dissenters, or proving that one’s political party is better than another will not help the country. Restoring decency, patriotism and the core values that make America unique will solve the problem.

Americans will ultimately always be unique. It is impossible for them to ever agree on anything. But they must always share the common bond of being patriots of a country worth defending. It should not take another tragedy for the United States to come together. We the people have cast a dark cloud over the United States, and now it is time for us to work together to rebuild our nation.

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