The signs are everywhere - our country is in deep, no question. There is inordinate attention being paid to a few voices of hate and exclusion. All the while the rest of us are told these people are representative of the rest of us, and soon we begin to believe it.
Our "leaders" seem powerless in the face of economic catastrophe and social unraveling. They look after their own, while the angry voices in the street, on the radio, on the internet, on television keep telling us that the only way to save us to exclude, to denounce, to demonize. Our President is alienating us from our traditions. Our immigrants are stealing our jobs. Our Muslims fellow-citizens are a threat.
It's not just here. As American troops leave Iraq, with that country still without a government, the low-level civil war heats up. Bombings and shootings increase, more people die, and there is literally no protection. In Afghanistan, the Taliban moves from victory to victory, leaving death and terror in their wake. Pakistan is still under water, with millions displaced and no prospect of things improving quickly.
It would be so easy to succumb to despair. It would be so easy to accept that these images and sounds, these voices and people are the only ones that count. It would be so easy to accept that our political leaders are not just fearful, but incompetent as well. It would be so easy to simply surrender, leave over this land of many other lands to those who want us to be a place we are not and can never be.
Yet, I refuse to do so. My hope does not lie in politics, our "leaders", our people, even our Constitution. My hope lies in the promise of God that, despite it all, we live under Divine Providence. The United States is greater than our present moment would indicate. While we have many faults, to be sure, we also have had moments in the past when, at its bleakest, we have managed to show ourselves better than our worst instincts. From the Founders, with their vision of a commercial Republic in which active participation was a blessing to Henry Clay's vision of a country united and growing in spite of differences through the tragic, firm gentleness of Abraham Lincoln to the compassionate noblesse oblige of Franklin Roosevelt, at those moments when all seemed lost we have had men arise who helped all of us rise to some level above the general malaise and anger. These men are indications of the possibilities that all is never lost.
I know ours will never be a perfect land. The wounds of our history - of race and the destruction of the native populations; of economic exploitation and environmental degradation; of that general human tendency to want the rest of our country to look like us, not them - run far too deep to ever be completely erased. Yet, we have certainly been better than we are now. I do not mean that phrase the way the right uses it; on the contrary, their fear- and hate-filled screeching is part of the problem, part of what could so easily lead to despair. The God in whom I believe, in whom I place my life and faith and trust, will not lead us to destruction. Certainly we have much for which to atone - our greed masked as sound economy; our bigotry masked as concern; our pride masked as concern; our hubris masked as a belief in our Divine destiny - but we still have much to offer. A chastened, more humble America would be a boon to the world.