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Carnegie Speaker: Our greatest threat may be from within


  • By The Newnan Times-Herald
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  • Jan. 20, 2023 - 4:43 PM

Carnegie Speaker: Our greatest threat may be from within

The Newnan Times-Herald

By Laura Camper / laura@newnan.com

In a talk about hot spots in the world and foreign policy, at Newnan Carnegie Library Foundation’s Lunch and Learn on Friday, the speaker noted that the greatest enemy in the U.S. may be from within.

No, not from hidden terrorist cells or homegrown terrorists, but from a general disengagement from American society.

There have been protests in the U.S. since its inception. In the 1970s when Patrick James arrived in the U.S. from his home in Canada there were protests over the Vietnam War, he said. It was a very divisive time. But there was a difference.

“Except for a few radical fringe elements, the average protester loved this country and sincerely believed they were doing the right thing,” said James, a Newnan transplant and retired professor from the University of Southern California.

The author of more than 200 academic publications, James is a sought-after speaker and regularly speaks at Oxford University.

A lack of civic nationalism is weakening the country in a fundamental way and is a harm to national security, he said.

James talked about the types of hot spots that exist. Some are seen and others are unseen. Some are external and some are internal.

The war in Ukraine is a visible, external hot spot, James said. The Federal Aviation Administration’s outdated Notice to Air Missions system, which was compromised by the inadvertent deletion of files and recently shut down air traffic nationwide recently, is an example of a hot spot that was at least partially hidden, he said.

COVID-19 was an internal hot spot that was very visible, and ended up dividing the nation perhaps more than any other issue in the past 50 years, James said. The aftereffects of the pandemic include a general lowering of respect for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Our handling of large-scale issues that will arise to challenge our infrastructure … we’re just not doing this very well,” James said. "They end up getting horribly politicized and people have a bad taste in their mouth, to put it mildly.”

One internal hot spot that is not given as much thought as it should is civic engagement, he said.

James cited a book, “Bowling Alone,” written by Robert Putnam about 20 years ago. The book examined the increasing disconnectedness of people from church and civic organizations, friends and family, and how it has affected society.

“This matters in terms of national culture,” James said. “These groups, we call them social capital. Think of them as capital the same way a bank has money in the bank.”

They provide identity, friendship, and they are very important for the country to process challenges and meet them. Some of the consequences of the loss of that connectedness can be seen in the callous way people treat each other, he said. So challenges tend to cause more divisions than unified responses.

“There’s a lot more twittering than bowling leagues these days and arguably, we’re worse off for it,” James said.

He argues that’s one reason our foreign policy can be so disappointing.

James offered a number of policy recommendations to improve national security.

“This is my point of view — evidence-based, scientific process, but with a human face,” he said.

First, James said, like Voltaire, he doesn’t believe that the perfect should get in the way of the good. For instance, he recommends working to stabilize the Middle East rather than trying to create a perfect region.

Second, he said simply reward the good and punish the bad. For instance, reward Sweden and Finland, who have been very stimulated by the Russian invasion of Ukraine and are doing some of our work for us, James said.

“We should reward that,” James said. “We should be reaching out to them more for cooperation with these states.”

Third, James recommended that before acting, we need to slow down and assess possible consequences.

Finally, he recommended that the country focus on building civic nationalism.

“The amount of time and energy that Americans spend trashing the United States and focusing on what’s wrong with it is a much higher percentage of discourse than it was when I moved here,” James said. “And I got here in the late ’70s during what was a difficult period of transition from Vietnam (and) Watergate.”