Washington's Tug of War: Individualism Vs. Community

Here's how to find the balance between paradoxical virtues.

ByABC News
January 2, 2015, 6:02 PM
Davis Mountains State Park in Fort Davis, Texas.
Davis Mountains State Park in Fort Davis, Texas.
UIG/Getty Images

— -- Driving out to West Texas in my Dodge Jeep, listening to country music on Christmas Day to spend a little time alone in the Davis Mountains, it got me thinking about our country and the paradox of values that come with being an American. One set of these paradoxical values is our deep down sense of rugged individualism and our belief in community and that we are all part of a bigger whole.

The history of America has been one of a tug of war between these two competing values. At times we pull harder on private property rights, limited government, and low taxes. Other times big concerns push us to broaden government's role, increase taxes, and sacrifice our individual preferences to serve a broader goal. The political tug of war in Washington DC today seems to be one over these competing values. Democrats push a bigger government role because of our country's needs, but forget to understand the rugged individualism in our core. Republicans talk much about the rights of the individual and advocate little government, but neglect to realize Americans always see themselves as part of a community. While each side is well intentioned, they miss the opportunity to find the balance in this paradox of values. And that is what is missing today in America.

As I drove into the Davis Mountains State Park at dusk, the sun was just kissing the mountains good night, and I pulled up to the Indian Lodge. The Indian Lodge sits serenely on the side of a the mountain in the state park. Built in the 1930s as part of Franklin Roosevelt's Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) it stands in its peaceful beauty still used by folks like me who are venturing out into the unsettled area of West Texas. The young men in the 1930s, who were sent out there in the middle of nowhere to live in tents, work hard in the tough weather, wore uniforms and were earning a little money in the midst of the Great Depression. (nearly all of it they sent home to their families). It took some tough, rugged individuals to join this group and they were able to build something that lasts for decades to come, and most importantly to gain a bit of respect in their lives. The CCC built respect and projects throughout our land in one of the toughest times we as a country faced.

A few miles up the road from the lodge is Fort Davis. This was a fort established on the frontier in the 1850s to protect folks who were traveling from San Antonio to El Paso on their way to California to seek their fortune and a better life. Harsh conditions faced these men and women as they built a life out of the desert and rocks they lived amidst, and they did this in order to protect travelers they didn't even know. In fact, some of the first soldiers to occupy this remote post were the famous Buffalo soldiers -- a regiment of African Americans who helped to show other folks that color didn't have anything to do with ability.

In each of these instances, individual freedom and prosperity seeking tough Americans came together in the rawness of the Texas mountains to help not just build a better life for themselves but for their communities and the country. These simple folks they didn't complicate the endeavor with discussions of the role of government or individual rights, they just did, and they held the balance of the paradox of these American values.