I read somewhere, once upon a time, an adage about wealthy families which goes something like this: The first generation makes the money, the second generation maintains it, and the third generation loses it.

I read somewhere, once upon a time, an adage about wealthy families which goes something like this: The first generation makes the money, the second generation maintains it, and the third generation loses it.


As a fast and loose principal, it seems to hold water. People are more able to appreciate the sacrifices of their parents than of their grandparents, if for no other reason than temporal proximity. Put more broadly then, each cohort of grandparents is doomed to watch their offspring’s progeny tear apart what they built. Hyperbolic, maybe, but stick with me here.


Taking a look around America and its place in the world right now, I wonder if that doesn’t describe this particular moment in our nation’s history.


I’m 32. My grandparents’ generation won World War II and solidified the nation’s place as a superpower. My parents’ generation maintained that success by parrying the Soviet Union long enough for it to collapse in upon itself. And my generation — this blob of iPhone-obsessed offense mongers we call "Millennials" — is too busy taking selfies to realize America has fallen behind.


And what’s worse, I’m not sure they even care.


True confessions: I think about this every time I recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Each time I say those words, I think to myself; "Umm, do I really, though? Do I pledge my personal allegiance to America — the America this country has become?"


It would be easy to pledge my allegiance to the America of my grandparents. Putting my hand over my heart and dedicating myself to the country that sent 400,000 brothers, fathers, neighbors and friends to die overseas in order to defeat Evil with a capital "E" — that’s an easy dedication. It’s the least the survivors could do.


And likewise, pledging allegiance to my mom and dad’s America would carry the heavy burden of patriotism as well. To be sure, the country meandered during those decades — stumbling through the dark on Civil Rights, dishonoring its troops in Vietnam, and figuring out which of its parochial chains to remove from society. But that generation still had the reference point of their parents’ sacrifices by which they could triangulate and stay on course. To wave an American flag was still an act of love for one’s country, even if it was often in protest.


But I ask you: From where, exactly, is that love supposed to come for those under 40? Financially, the country has bankrupted itself through welfare largesse and silly wars. Politically, most people recognize it doesn’t even matter who wins the Oval Office next year; the two parties have been virtually indistinguishable on both domestic and foreign policy since Reagan left office. Economically, all the great engines of commerce have run out of gas, and the heavy foot of Washington on the brake of economic acceleration shows no signs of relent.


And socially, the freedoms of the Constitution have been chipped away so drastically, they’re unrecognizable. We’re free to speak — so long as no one finds our words offensive. Free to practice religion — but not to judge our fellow man. Free to bear arms — but only in those "zones" appropriately designated. And free from unreasonable search and seizure — unless you’re black.


So what, then, does it mean to pledge one’s allegiance to America? The coolheaded answer is probably something like, "It means accepting that our Democracy can lead to outcomes that individuals find egregious." But how far does that logic extend? At what one point does America stop being "America?"


We famously call ourselves the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave. But we’re not really all that free anymore. And as I look around people my own age, I see very little bravery. I see very little initiative to fix what’s broken.


A study came out earlier this month showing 35 percent of Americans would consider a permanent move to another country "to seek a better quality of life." Among Millennials, that number jumps to 55 percent.


And how perfect. How typical of my generation. We’re too self-involved to realize that before we got here, there was no such thing as a "better quality of life" elsewhere in the world — America was as good as it got. And maybe it still is. But it won’t be for long; not if we continue on our current trajectory.


My grandma Minnie made this country what it is. My dad, Bob, kept it in good stead. And me and my ilk? We’re in the process of letting it slip away.


NATE STRAUCH is a columnist and reporter with the Herald Democrat. Email him at nstrauch@heralddemocrat.com. Follow him on Twitter @NStrauchHD.