By Tim Hayes 

They’re memorializing the late songstress Whitney Houston today in New Jersey.  Every cable channel has a complete satellite compound up and broadcasting, as they have been for days, and flags across the Garden State are flying at half-staff, as directed by the governor. 

Two weeks ago, they played the Super Bowl game in Indianapolis, and the predictable chatter could be heard on talk radio and elsewhere that the day after the Sunday night event should be declared a national holiday so that people can recover.

Weeks after the various “Occupy” encampments dotted nationwide in major cities had lost a lot of their steam and support, breathless media coverage got ramped up as, one by one, the final hours ticked down after civic leaders and private businesses who owned the occupied properties had finally had enough.

Republican presidential candidates shoot arrows at and through each other during what has become an endlessly grueling grind of debates and distractions.  My hair stands on end wondering the depths of personal venom and irrational, irrelevant, irresponsible discourse we’re all in for once the political conventions conclude this summer and we hurtle, spitting and sputtering, to Election Day in November.

I’m left with some uncomfortable questions about all of these scenarios:  Has this country gone completely off the deep end?  Has it become impossible to retain some level of perspective and rational decision making?   Has reality become so difficult to bear, that our national default position is scarfing down a bowl of ice cream, watching “E! News Daily?”  Has the national discourse become so polarized and the media so distrusted that more and more people seriously confess that they get their primary news coverage from “The Daily Show,” a political satire program on Comedy Central?

For the love of Pete, how did this country get to this point?

The world has always been a dangerous place, and it remains so today.  My point is only that America, amid these dangers, may instead be projecting an image of silliness, laziness, and cynicism.  We don’t appear capable of taking much of anything seriously anymore.  We’re happy to let someone else do the working, the paying, the providing, the defending, the fighting, the building, the recovering.  And it’s troubling, because we’ve seen this sort of thing play out before.

In 1940, a senior at Harvard wrote a thesis on the strategic mistakes and costly misreading of Hitler by Great Britain that permitted World War II to begin, when it might have been prevented otherwise.  That thesis became the international bestseller “Why England Slept,” by John F. Kennedy.  JFK’s main point was that England had not morally prepared itself to take on the fight, and as a result, the fight came to it. 

England may have been asleep 70-plus years ago, and found a tiger clawing through its front door.  America back then had the guts and national spirit to ride to the rescue.  Are we the ones asleep today, or even just daydreaming, while various and sundry tigers prepare to pounce?

We need leaders – in politics, business, religion, media, academia, and around every family’s kitchen table – to wake up, get serious, and re-communicate those qualities that make America great: personal responsibility and accountability, respect for each other and each other’s property, a sense of shared pride in this amazing nation, a readiness to care and provide for neighbors in need, faith and reliance in a higher power, and a simple dedication to honesty and integrity.

As a nation, we can do better.  We must.  And with great leadership communication across all categories, I believe we will.

Copyright 2012 Transverse Park Productions, LLC