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Nails in Our Coffin 

Taking a Gander: For the U.S. to endure, we must know the truth.

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There's a story told of two seeds, each one sown from the hands of a diligent farmer. One lands on a spot that is rich and fertile—plentiful nutrients and the right amount of moisture—but the other falls on a patch of rocky ground where there is little nutrition and inadequate water.

While the first seed grows and thrives, the second seed lacks the ideal conditions for germination, growth and its ultimate maturation. It may sprout and grow for a while, somehow temporarily rising above the bleakness of its conditions and rallying over its frustrating, daunting difficulties. But though the farmer works faithfully to assist its survival, it seems there's little hope; the tiny plant struggles valiantly for a while and then succumbs to the realities of its situation—shriveling and dying, leaving little evidence of its short and difficult life.

This little parable is applicable to many situations in life. But what worries me is how this same story can also apply to our dear country, its democracy, and the present staggering threats to its survival.

There's no question that the "seed," sown by the Founding Fathers, was a good one. The concepts of the people's voice, proper representation, free elections and the unobstructed flow of information were all essential to our country's future. The Constitution sang the essential tenets of the new republic, and the assurance of a "balance of power," created by the three branches of government—and its watchdog press—made the dreams of freedom an achievable reality.

As schoolchildren, we constantly heard about the visions of our country's founders, and we were continually assured that our great democracy, because of its indestructible foundations, would last forever. This, of course, is the ultimate American dream, but time is showing us that our country's future depends on cultivation and nourishment. Without these essentials, our country has no protection from an eventual collapse. The smug entitlement of freedom is not at all as secure as we'd believed.

When I look at what has been happening—not just over the past four years, but decades—I see an alarming narrative appearing on the wall. I find myself forced to ask the question: Can America survive? Fully aware of how other great countries and empires have flourished and then failed—Incas, Persians, the Arab Caliphate, Mongols and the Romans, for example—I am very troubled that our country will be one of those seeds that fell on the soil of failure and lacked the nurturing care to save it.

Any student of history can easily see that the most successful civilizations have all eventually failed—a titch over 350 years, on the average—and the reasons should be frighteningly clear. The "farmer" is failing in his responsibilities, and the devastating eventualities of torrential rain, periodic drought and the trampling of GOP elephants are all taking their toll.

Things are not looking good for our country's healthy survival and, every day, there are more nails being driven into its coffin.

Fortunately, the specter of failure is not a "fait accompli"; we don't have to accept that the crashing and burning of our country is inevitable. There are things we can do to turn the disturbing trends toward our own prosperous and happy survival.

If there's one identifiable villain in this situation, it is the failure of truth. Plastered with a continuous deluge of misinformation, the consequences of dishonesty are becoming shockingly apparent. While that trend was heavily reinforced by the recent declarations of "fake news" and "alternative facts," none of this is actually new.

Over the years, Americans and their friends in developed countries have come to understand the role that money plays in the quest for truth. A broad distrust has developed for both our government and the watchdog press. The innocence and naivete of the childhood classroom have been displaced by the troubling understanding that big money is buying the votes while compromising the integrity of news organizations.

It is especially tragic since the system of disinformation is so well entrenched. There appears to be no easy fix. Unfortunately, the same protections of our civil rights, provided by the Constitution, also prevent the enactment of laws regarding truth. Certainly, there must be a way to hold our presidents, congressional representatives and other publicly responsible servants accountable for their lies, and, particularly, for lies that incite civil unrest and violence. Likewise, responsible journalism must be allowed to provide unadulterated truth. That should be the minimum, but incursions into free speech—even the official spiels of our leaders—are now commonplace and accepted.

Democracy is a system that requires open access to the facts—no person can vote for representation or leadership without the benefit of simply knowing the truth. That puts us all at an extreme disadvantage; it takes a heavy commitment to finding and heeding reliable media—ferreting the facts from a maze of potential disinformation.

The truth seems to be in short supply these days. Driven by a stubborn tenacity to totally debunked fairy tales, there's a portion of America that has strayed dangerously into the domain of anarchy. At this juncture—as much as I hate to say it—it is only a broad access and attention to the truth that can avert our nation's demise.

The author is a retired businessman, novelist, columnist and former Vietnam-era Army assistant public information officer. He resides in Riverton with his wife, Carol, and the beloved ashes of their mongrel dog.

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