Raymond Haberski Jr. is professor of history at Marian University and a visiting professor of American Studies at IUPUI. He's the author of God and War: American Civil Religion Since 1945 (Rutgers UP).
President Barack Obama’s State of the Union proposed to enlarge the American promise of prosperity by introducing a new tax structure for the very wealthy, tax credits for families outside of the wealthy stratum, increased access to retirement plans for more American workers, and a plan to subsidize community college tuition. While there will be resistance to the president’s proposals, the impulse behind them is an appeal to an idealized form of decency that Lyndon B. Johnson believed would make his idea of a Great Society an American reality.
Fifty years ago this month, Johnson introduced his vision to Congress.
The United States is back at war—that didn’t take very long. One might argue we never really stopped fighting, or, frankly, that the country has been in a perpetual state of war since World War II. Religious as well as the more generic popular responses to America’s various wars often boils down to a tension between revulsion and obligation. Not surprisingly, that dualism relates directly to the simple formula presidents have used over the years (and through every war) to justify military actions in strategic and moral terms. The threats change—fascism, communism, terrorism—as do the locations, but the moral rationale rarely does.
The United States and the Catholic Church share some intriguing similarities: both are global in reach, exert significant influence over hundreds of millions of people, and (perhaps most interestingly) make serious teleological claims. Such claims have not necessarily clashed, for they appeal to different social and moral aspects of humanity. At their best, they can be complementary empires of promise.
I imagine many Americans felt some anxiety watching the debacle unfold over the Affordable Care Act. From the government shutdown to problems with healthcare.gov, the American promise didn’t look so hot.
In conversations with my friends and colleagues, my students and family, and (to the concern of my daughter) with the radio, I stumbled to find some solace amidst the storm of stupidity that seemed to defy politics and logic. And when I stumble I usually look to Reinhold Niebuhr.