The battle for the soul of America

After spending the last year living in the United States, I will mercifully be whisked back to my peaceful homeland of Australia before the tumult of November’s election season begins.

While I am not a US citizen, I certainly have a dog in the fight — as a green card holder, a taxpayer, the husband of an American wife, and the father of an American daughter.

Being a fellow Westerner in general and an Aussie in particular, I am also acutely aware that America’s destiny largely shapes that of my own country, not least as Communist China flexes its muscles in our largely undefended region.

Before my first visit to the US some five years ago, I had an image of a confident, prosperous America, of mansions and manicured lawns, clean cities and cutting-edge culture, risk and ingenuity — basically, the America I saw in the movies. While that America does exist, it is increasingly found in gated communities and elite coastal suburbs, far from where the majority live.

The majority live in cities like Milwaukee, where I have spent the last 12 months.


Milwaukee is a city of battlers. Located an hour and a half north of Chicago on the western shores of Lake Michigan, Milwaukee is a gritty industrial hub, famous for big-name breweries like Miller, Pabst and Schlitz, and the headquarters of Harley Davidson and Milwaukee Tool.

In Milwaukee’s early-19th century settlement by faith-filled German immigrants, its rapid industrialisation, and its incredible taming of wild frontiers, I see distinct reflections of my own native Adelaide Hills. I understand these people.

In many ways, Milwaukee is a microcosm of 2020s America.

It is a cultural and political battlefield. Here, farmers, factory workers and finance types are hustling to survive a cost-of-living crisis while their taxes fund foreign wars, DEI bloat and federal largesse. Schools have become a frontline in the fight over pronouns, pornographic library books and other propaganda.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court just re-legalised ballot drop boxes in a state where voter fraud allegations were widespread. Wokery is weaponising the empathy of everyday people to recruit foot soldiers for its cultural revolution, but most don’t realise the TV and newspapers are lying about how popular those ideas really are.


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Indeed, it was in satellite cities of Milwaukee that the Waukesha Christmas massacre and the Kenosha riots (of Kyle Rittenhouse and “Fiery But Mostly Peaceful Protests” fame) took place, not to mention the death of George Floyd just across the border.

Additionally — paradoxically perhaps — political and cultural apathy are rife, not least in the circles I frequent. Most people take pride in their non-partisanship. Perhaps it’s their last line of defence in preserving the whimsical America of yesteryear. I often find myself tongue-tied, wanting to speak up about the ominous signs all around, but fearing the label of opining outsider.

The Good Land

Milwaukee is also the biggest city in one of the nation’s key battleground states. The Republican National Convention will take place here later this month, after the Democratic National Convention held its summit here in 2020 (though Covid fears forced it mostly online). In recent months, Milwaukee and nearby cities have played host to Republican frontrunner Donald Trump, President Joe Biden and VP Kamala Harris. Talk about hotly contested.

Finally, like so many other American metropolises, Milwaukee is a city battling decline. The population is shrinking. Aging roads and bridges lie in a state of disrepair. Shootings and other crime rates remain persistently high. The smell of marijuana smoke wafts through city streets and down freeways. Milwaukee’s growing health sector looks impressive until you realise it’s largely dedicated to managing lifestyle-related ailments linked to obesity and heart disease. Racial segregation is palpable, reflecting the city’s economic disparity, but more tangibly, reflecting a disparity in hope.

Writing for the Free Press in a heart-rending piece entitled ‘We’re All Soviets Now’, Niall Fergusson mourns similar ills seen nationwide. Rising infant mortality. A stagnant non-farm business sector. An expensive but underprepared military. A federal government soon to spend more on debt than defence. An epidemic of mental ill health among the young. An epidemic of deaths of despair among the aged. Record fentanyl overdoses. A rise in mortality and a decline in life expectancy unparalleled in the developed world.

I love America. I hope and pray there are better days ahead. The road out of this mess will be a long one, but I am ultimately optimistic.

Milwaukee’s battlecry — the meaning of its name — is “the Good Land”. May it be so again. And may America find the political, cultural and spiritual renewal it so desperately needs.

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Kurt Mahlburg is a husband, father, freelance writer, and a familiar Australian voice on culture and the Christian faith. He is the Senior Editor at Australia’s largest Christian news site The Daily Declarationand a Contributing Editor at Mercator. His writings can also be found at Intellectual Takeout, The American Spectator and the Spectator Australia. He has authored or co-authored five books, including his breakout title Cross and Culture: Can Jesus Save the West?

Image credit: Depositphotos


Showing 17 reactions

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  • Anon Emouse
    Mrs cracker,

    You are a far better person than Trump, who mocked the assassination attempt on Nancy Pelosi last year:

    And who also said in response to a school shooting earlier this year that we have to “get over it” and “move forward”
  • mrscracker
    Sadly, yesterday some unbalanced person tried to take the election outcome into their own hands at all costs.
    Trump Derangement Syndrome has its own conspiracy theory devotees on the Left in a similar way QAnon attracts those on the Right.
    I lost a close friend to TDS. She became obsessed with the theory that Pres. Trump has plans to establish a dictatorship and ditch the Constitution. She went down that rabbit hole during Covid and never came out.
    My children have in laws and friends who went down QAnon rabbit holes.
    Who knows what hole influenced the young man who tried to assassinate Mr. Trump. Conspiracy theories can be deadly.
    Praise God Donald Trump is safe and prayers for all who were wounded or killed yesterday.
  • mrscracker
    There’s a great many folks in flyover country that would disagree with your comments Mr. Peter but that’s how democracy works. You & I can freely vote as we each see best. Hopefully though we won’t see the powers that be avoiding an election outcome at “all cost.” That sounds a bit alarming.
  • Marty Hayden
    commented 2024-07-13 00:43:16 +1000
    Buc-ee’s is a state treasure. I’ve been to their ‘corporate office’ in Lake Jackson. There is absolutely nothing corporate about it. In fact, it closely resembles a large residence. Tastefully decorated too, I would say.
  • Peter
    commented 2024-07-12 18:51:25 +1000
    And, for “America (t0) find (this) political, cultural and spiritual renewal” it must avoid at all cost the election of Mr D Trump.
  • mrscracker
    It’s reassuring that even when we have disparate views on other things almost everyone agrees that Buc-ee’s is amazing.
    You need to pay a visit to Buc-ee’s Mr. Kurt next time you return to the States. Wall to wall good things to eat and anything you could possibly need on a road trip including super posh bathrooms.
  • Anon Emouse
    Buc-ee’s is wonderous.

    Kurt, so while we disagree on issues like abortion, I would like to ask you – the link you posted showed that more babies were saved, which is wonderful – but it seems that more and more of those babies born aren’t reaching adulthood (hence the increase infant mortality rate). If you find CNN to be biased, how about nature?

    And yes, babies are people – I just don’t think babies are people at 6 weeks. I’d be more concerned for the mother – who also has an increased mortality rate correlated to increased abortion restrictions:

    My point, overall, Kurt, is that while you lament the “increased mortality rate” of the US – you support policies that studies show are associated with an increased mortality rate for non-fetuses.
  • mrscracker
    Just going to Texas to experience Buc-ee’s is worth the trip Mr. Marty. It’s a wonderful state.
  • mrscracker
    We used to call PBS “Propaganda Broadcasting Service”. Enough said.
  • Kurt Mahlburg
    commented 2024-07-11 23:51:55 +1000
    Marty, I’d love to. Closest I’ve gotten so far is Tennessee, a state that I loved!
  • Kurt Mahlburg
    commented 2024-07-11 23:51:33 +1000
    Anon, what PBS and CNN won’t tell you about is the drop in mortality following abortion law reforms:

    (What they also won’t tell you is that babies are humans too).
  • Marty Hayden
    commented 2024-07-11 23:03:57 +1000
    Kurt, come to Texas. (mic drop)
  • Michael Cook
    followed this page 2024-07-11 20:58:58 +1000
  • Kurt Mahlburg
    commented 2024-07-10 21:37:48 +1000
    You’re welcome! Yes one of the surprising things also not seen in the movies is the incredible disparity in the different regions of the US. Same is true in flyover countries — massive poverty in some areas and beautiful ranches and rolling green hills in others. It really is an incredible country but as you intimate, in need of a lot of restoration.
  • mrscracker
    I’ve never been to Milwaukee. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about it.
    I’m sure you know that the culture of each region and every state differs in the US. It’s a huge amount of territory.
    Things are better than the media suggests in some communities and worse in others. A family member who works in a “coastal elite” environment had everything of value stolen from the residence they keep there. They said wearing any jewelry in public invites snatch and grab robberies. A nearby state university dormitory had a break in and a female student sexually assaulted. There are homeless folks and addicts camping everywhere.
    So, even though you might make more income in those places it sounds like my relative’s going to wrap things up and live full time in a little town far away from all that dysfunction.
  • Kurt Mahlburg
    published this page in The Latest 2024-07-10 15:36:50 +1000