Fifty years ago, at the age of 12, I was fortunate enough to grow up in the most prosperous, industrialized nation in the world, a country grounded in faith, family and individual freedoms. Our grandparents, who lived through the Great Depression and two world wars taught us to appreciate the roof over our heads, the clothes on our back and the ability to work hard to provide food and security for our families.
Yet, for millions of Americans including myself, their words of wisdom soon faded, and we began to chase false dreams. We wanted it all: the big home and pool, the biggest and fastest cars, credit cards for every department store, the latest fashions, big-screen televisions and the most enviable jobs, because we wouldn't dare be seen digging ditches or mopping someone else's floor.
When our children were born, we vowed to give them an even better life: new bikes, expensive toys, hundred-dollar sneakers, a car at age 16 and permission to roam malls and stay out late with friends.
How did that work out? They became the "me, me, me, I, I, I" generation. Today they're lost in their own world of laptops, iPhones, iPods, iPads, Xboxes and bedroom flat screens. If you want to talk to your children today, you have to text them or pull the earphones off their heads and shout to get their attention.
For the past five decades, while two generations indulged themselves with selfish lifestyles, our country, once the envy of the world, was slowing transforming into an unrecognizable shell of its former self.
Most Americans were so busy competing in the race to consume the most goods, having the most friends on Facebook and being the most knowledgeable about current reality shows that they forgot to get involved in the governing of their nation. They forgot to get involved in their children's schools and personal lives. They forgot about Sunday school and church and moral values and teaching about honesty and integrity. The majority of us forgot our grandparents' words of wisdom.
Now, decades later, our innocent grandchildren must pay the price for our self-indulgence, our greediness and our inability to see the harm that our politicians were imposing on the country we shamefully took for granted.
In 1960, our national debt was $290 billion. Today we are $13 trillion in debt. In 1960, we had a surplus of $1.2 billion. Today we have a $1.4 trillion deficit. Our once proud nation is technically bankrupt and must borrow money from foreign governments to survive, including our biggest banker, communist China. This debt now belongs to our grandchildren and their children.
Sadly, the president of the United States is on national television ads asking for citizens to help with community food banks. I never thought I would hear an American president admit that "one in eight people in America suffer from hunger."
Are our grandkids going to inherit a second-class nation?
The following facts and statistics would bring our Founding Fathers to their knees:
* Thirty-nine million Americans live in poverty. Eight million in extreme poverty.
* Approximately 17 million Americans are unemployed or underemployed.
* Between 2001 and 2008, America lost 2.4 million jobs just to China.
* Twenty-seven million Americans depend on government aid.
* One in four Americans receive food stamps.
* Fifteen million Americans are alcoholics.
As of 2008, The National Institute of Drug Abuse shows the following: Twenty-five million Americans smoke marijuana, 15 million abuse prescription drugs and 5 million use cocaine. An estimated 850,000 Americans use meth, and over 450,000 people take heroin.
In 2009 over 1,625 metric tons of illegal drugs were seized in the United States. Yet our government is incapable and unwilling to secure the borders of the United States. No other civilized, democratic country in the world would allow this to happen.
There are currently 7 million Americans in prison or jail, or on probation and parole.
Even more unbelievable, are the more than 30 American cities that proudly call themselves "sanctuary cities." They have passed ordinances protecting illegal aliens, refusing to report them to federal authorities. They are breaking U.S. immigration laws, and our government does nothing.
Would Canada allow 12 million to 15 million Americans to enter that country illegally and demand the citizenship rights of Canadians?
Is this the America we dreamed of for our grandchildren? Many of them attend schools with metal detectors and security guards. They have to be warned of the 370,000 registered pedophiles and sex offenders who roam America's streets. The pornography industry now makes more money than Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Netflix, eBay, Yahoo and Apple combined.
Our federal government is bloated and dysfunctional. Our elected officials no longer respond to the "will of the American people." Presidents and the Congress are bought and sold every two years by rich, influential interest groups, lobbyists and corporations. Just read the names on the visitors' logs of the White House and the Congress. Mainstream America has become irrelevant to the politicians.
If you don't feel guilty or ashamed, then America is not for you. If we love our grandchildren, as most of us proudly admit, then we need to get involved, get educated and get to work finding politicians who still embrace honor and integrity. If they fail to meet our standards while in Washington, vote them out. It will take several election cycles, but we can change this country one vote at a time.
But first we must change ourselves and our lifestyles. Use your computer skills to stay informed on political issues. Know how your federal legislators are voting and who's contributing to their campaigns. Share your knowledge with your older children and help them understand their children's future is at stake.
I apologize to my grandchildren for standing on the sidelines as my country slowly lost its moral soul and its exceptionalism. But I promise, in the future, to never forget that "we are endowed by our Creator," and my grandchildren will not be denied their unalienable rights of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
William Piercey Sr. is a Cape Girardeau resident.