A National S.O.S.

Is this what the end of an era feels like? It is hard to avoid the fact that, currently, America is not at its proudest moment. To Chris Salamone and Professor Gilbert Morris, it is 4 B.C. and we are the ancient Romans, passively watch­ing the degeneration of our once great lands, not even fully aware that it is actually happening. Overdramatic? Yeah, probably. While the fall of our great nation may be just around the corner, Salamone and Morris claim that “our best America” can also be “one generation away” if we get our act together. Rescue America is Salamone and Morris’ “battle cry” for fighting against the demise of our country. Their war plan may be simpler than you think: remember the founding values and get a job.

Salamone, though first and foremost a successful busi­nessman and self-proclaimed “leader,” is also the founder of LeadAmerica, the National Student Leadership Confer­ence (programs that teach students how to be “leaders” in their own right), and President of the National Institute for Legal Education and the BarBri Law Prep Program. In three parts, Salamone and Morris explain what exactly the founding values are and how they are responsible for the success America has seen, why America is potentially on the brink of its demise, and what are the ways we can rescue our system.

The first section of this book is arguably the most worthwhile. Salamone and Gilbert use the opening of the book to explain America’s founding values: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness, in addition to what the authors refer to as the “Lincoln Proposition,” which is a principle taken from Lincoln’s statement, “The man who labored for another last year, this year labors for himself, and next year he will hire others to work for him.” In their point of view, these founding values are the reason why America has advanced faster and to a greater extent than any other nation in history, in addition to providing the most social mobility.

No doubt, almost everyone living in America, citizen or not, has at least heard of those ideals. The frightening part is that hardly anyone can accurately explain what these values truly mean. Take, for example, the phrase from the Declaration “all men are created equal.” Many today would read that statement as a justification for receiving things they have not earned, in order to become “equal” in some sense to others. This interpretation is inherently wrong, because it demands a definition of equality that is not absolute, but, instead, dependent on the definer. Salamone explains that “equality,” as used in the Declaration, refers to the “free­dom to choose,” or the equal opportunity to decide to use one’s talents to advance within society. It does not refer to an equality of outcome. This type of equality is natural, something we have from birth, and the most absolute form of equality that a nation can hope to promote, because it does not change as those in power change.

Including this lesson on our founding ideals in the book was a savvy move on the authors’ part, because it further emphasized another powerful point in their book: There is a big problem with properly teaching history in our schools. Appropriately, Salamone and Morris address the all-too-common predilection of American educators to highlight shameful moments in America’s history and to instill a sense of guilt and shame in American students for these contempt­ible events. While these particular events must never be left out of any curriculum because it simply does not pay in the end to be dishonest about the history of one’s nation, it is important to emphasize what history is actually showing. Rescue explains the fact that every time a mistake has been made, it has occurred when Americans acted contrary to their founding values, not in line with them.

A true adherence to the founding values would have left no opportunity for these disgraceful moments to occur. Over time, many of the mistakes that educators highlight in our his­tory were eventually addressed by the government, who made an attempt to rectify the wrongdoing to the greatest possible degree. Salamone and Morris justly quote the preamble to the Declaration and claim the Constitution, and the the United States in turn, were made in order to “create a more perfect union”. It is this promise that admits both America’s present imperfections and its unceasing attempt to better itself. Sal­amone and Morris are right to call out present-day educators, because the majority of them are teaching the fundamentals of America wrong by focusing on the mistakes, instead of the attempts to fix these mistakes. Though it seems simplistic, Salamone and Morris are right to emphasize the drastic need to reform the education system if there is any desire to remedy the current issues of our country.

After clearly explaining the core American values and the successes they entail, it would have probably been sufficient for Salamone to end the book, considering his aim here is really to spark an enthusiastic movement dedicated to the rebirth of American prosperity. However, Salamone and Mor­ris decide to go on for another one hundred pages detailing how the loss of these values has ruined the American work ethic, and giving suggested solutions to our current problem.

To keep the founding values alive, Rescue states, or rather, beats it into the heads of its readers, that people living in America must practice gratitude, personal responsibility and sacrifice, The underlying prerequisite to carrying out the tenets of the founding values. If one does not recognize the importance of our values, they will have no gratitude for the selfless actions of our forefathers, no motivation to perform sacrifices themselves, factors which the authors claim are the only way to actively show one’s gratitude, and to take responsibility of one’s life.

The practice of these three actions leaves no room for an “attitude of entitlement,” a reliance on government support, or a “culture of complaint,” which are some of the many parasites plaguing American society today. Rescue, above all else, is arguing for an attitude check in Americans. Ac­cording to Salamone and Morris, the only reason members of this generation, the Millenials, are self-absorbed, unmo­tivated, and whiny, while the previous two generations were motivated, disciplined, and determined to create better lives for their children is our attitude toward our country and our roles in society.

The description within Rescue of the many problems in our country now is a healthy wake up call. Unfortunately the solutions given to help Americans get back on the right track did not really convince me we are not doomed. One reason for this is that Salamone and Morris are so overcome with nostalgia for the days of the “Greatest Generation” that they do not confront the fact that the condition of our society is radically different from that of our grandparents.

Not to detract from the magnanimity of the actions of our predecessors, but Salamone and Morris glossed over the important fact that our predecessors sacrificed so much for their future generations because they either had to, or be­cause they were provided with the opportunity to do so. It’s no coincidence, for example, that the “Greatest Generation” experienced two wartime economies.

Salamone frequently refers to his own grandfather who emigrated from Italy in order to take advantage of the freedom of opportunity here. He does not emphasize, however, that a motivating factor for his grandfather was the dream that his hard work could enable his future generations to live in this country more comfortably than he did, and would not have to make the same sacrifices he himself had to make. A glance at Salamone’s curriculum vitae is enough proof that his grandfather’s American Dream was realized. I’m not ad­vocating for a snobbish attitude of inheritance in third-plus generation Americans, but the fact that their circumstances are different cannot be treated so lightly, as the authors chose to do. The question here is, for many whose predecessors helped them to achieve the “American Dream,” what should be their dream? How does one stay motivated when it is not critical for them to be?

Salamone and Morris would answer that our founding values and the practice of them through gratitude, sacrifice, and personal responsibility are timeless and can be applicable to anyone no matter their individual situation. Since it is harder to work hard when your life does not depend on it, the authors have come up with potential solutions for forc­ing young adults to practice the ideals so eagerly accepted by many of our immigrant ancestors. Many of their ideas focus on some type of mandatory service by those recently out of high school, either in the military, in a nonprofit group such as Teach for America, or other various civic programs. Disregarding the inherent problems that come with forcing any group of people to accept a certain set of values, their solutions overlook the issue of redefining a new “American Dream” that maintains our founding values are timeless and are the most advantageous ideology we can assume, but they apply to each generation differently.

Salamone and Morris do an excellent job of putting our history and our present state into perspective, in addition to calling out those who have actively disregarded our founding principles for the parasites that they are, which, I will give them, is a great step in the direction of solving the current problems of this country. But there quick-and-easy solutions as to how to remedy our situation are less than satisfactory. Rescue is a good realty check, but falls short of the “battle cry” it had promised it to be. It is not very surprising that a book by two educators reads quite like a college lecture: well-organized, full of potential inspiration, yet halfway through you get the point and kind of want to leave.

–Rebecca Hecht