Someone recently asked me why I care so much. I was surprised at the question; surely events of the past decade and more have shown how important, even necessary, it is that we Americans become involved in our public life. While there may be little any particular individual can do to move and shape our discourse or events, it is more possible than ever now to stay informed, the prerequisite to participation.
There are days, though, that information is enough to make most people throw up their hands. Just from the past couple days:
- The suicide rate among active duty service personnel has "spiked", averaging one a day. Think about that for just a moment, and what it says about who we are as a people.
- There is one American prisoner left in the hands of the Taliban. Because he is on record as critical of the US military, of his fellow soldiers and superiors, and left a trail that indicates a desire to walk away from his duties, some have publicly stated their preference not to bring home this young man, held for three years now by religious and political fanatics. With evidence, including testimony from his parents, that his mental state may well have been fragile, what state might be be in now?
- Our elite journalists are quite open about their contempt for actual news and information that effects the American people. Rather than give people the news and information they need to make informed choices, they head to social media to complain that talking about a possible European currency collapse is just too dull.
The State of Florida is trying to strip people of their right to vote. The Congressional leadership refuses to act at the very time we need, as FDR said, "bold vigorous experimentation" in order to keep the American experiment afloat. Both major party candidates for the Presidency continue to mouth platitudes in support of the idea that, as the tired phrase has it, "America's best days lie ahead." Neither one evinces any interest in actually doing anything to make this possible. In the words of Jack Germond's and Jules Witcover's famous autopsy of the 1988 Presidential campaign said, it is nothing but blue smoke and mirrors.
Those who complain about Obama's abuses of power, from covert cyber-war against Iran to lists of targets for assassination, including American citizens overseas, are told to remain quiet. Those who complain about how beholden Obama and the Democratic Party has become to corporate interests, stifling any attempt to force legal and social accountability upon the very institutions that created and sustain our current economic doldrums are told to fear how much worse America might be under his rival.
All the while, the other major American political party, wedded to a voting base which holds as self-evident a series of propositions without any basis in fact, whether about the President and his policies or the efficacy of particular policies for the health of the economy or foreign policy, has become a ridiculous caricature of a serious political party. Precisely for that reason, it does indeed pose a danger not only to the Republic but to the world.
Yet, if all we are offered is fear; if all we are told is, bad as things are imagine the alternative, where do we look to hope, perhaps, if not for success then at the very least an end to failure?
Hope does not rely on the ebb and flow of events. Hope sees the possibility that things may yet right themselves. There are always breaks in the clouds through which rays of light shine, offering the possibility that we may yet set ourselves on course. It isn't in politics or institutions or policies or power in which we should rest our hopes. Rather, in the openness of history, in the reality that, as free people, we may yet show ourselves better than our worst detractors claim we are.