Is this really what we’ve come to? With all that history?

Maybe it was the time or maybe it was the place. I cannot pinpoint how I came to know it, but the fact that my family, neighbors and friends were living in the best country on this earth was a fact I simply knew and shared.

We respected and appreciated being Americans.

It was a childhood in the 1950s and 1960s in America’s heartland.

Even with the assassination of then-President John F. Kennedy, watching the perceived Camelot fade and with the proliferation of the atrocity and carnage of the Vietnam War, the salient mindset of the vast majority remained with basic values of decency.

Those tenets were to guide one’s life honorably, earn the dollar with an honest day’s labor, take prudent charge of your family and aid thy neighbors and friends. Most of all, garner self-respect. Once that’s done, the rest would fall into place.

As great as we knew America to be, we also knew it had its fissures. Notably, Civil Rights became front and center, and many of us were awakened by the orations of Martin Luther King Jr.

His words were passionate, thoughtful and compelling. His 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech offered a transparent view into his head.

King spoke of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. He valued America and straightforwardly wanted it to honor its guiding doctrine of “all men are created equal.”

There was hope that the walls of ignorant biases would crack and tumble, and for many they did. It was never to be perfect, but improvements prospered.

Looking back, it seems that while many were focused on the Vietnam War and our culture war, something pernicious was afoot.

It never occurred to me in those formative years that parts of America would come to where they have.

I never had a thought a day would come when:

there would be protests and litigation over flying the American flag on any patch of territory in the USA;

becoming successful would be scorned and punished;

It would become a weekly endeavor of Americans to battle over our rights as afforded by the amendments to the Constitution, specifically the First, Second, Tenth and Fourteenth;

Bibles would be fertile in prisons but banned in schools;

being a Christian would be a life-endangering principle;

America-hating radical militants who bombed American buildings, tried to kill policemen and proudly stomped on the American flag in a filthy alley for a photo-op would become revered college professors – not to teach America’s values but to indoctrinate minds against it (Bill Ayers);

marking a grave of a military person who died for our freedoms with a simple structure in the shape of a cross would spur malcontents and lawsuits;

exercising the freedom of choice would be separate and apart from the responsibility of any and all ensuing consequences;

our military would be flagrantly disrespected and diminished, especially by two U.S. presidents.

Being responsible was a part of American DNA — honor your word, live within your means, take care of the family you produced and value a loyal friend more than a new car; don’t cavalierly file bankruptcy because of greed and the reckless spending of the “I want it — gotta have it now” crowd.

Shame was reserved for bad behavior, like a youngster being called out by a teacher and sent to the principal’s office, or as an adult having the community find out you are a liar and a charlatan.

Today shame is foisted upon those who vocalize they own a Bible, believe in America’s authentic values — the Constitution and America’s sovereignty.

It’s reserved for those who believe laws should blanket everyone and that everyone has the right to pursue happiness — not demand happiness as an entitlement to be bestowed.

Holding those decent convictions now earns negative labels of “extremist,” “radical” or “tea party member.”

Questioning the government was also part of the DNA, but injurious destruction-for-hire was not.

JFK’s well-remembered Jan. 20, 1961, inaugural address offered this wisdom: “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”

MLK’s quest for equality and freedom for African-Americans called for this: “In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds.

“Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline.”

There are things to learn from history.

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Betty Arenson is a Valencia resident who believes in the Constitution in its entirety and that laws should be upheld and apply to everyone equally.