So, here we are in 2016.
What kind of year it will be depends on us.
Presidential candidates and other would-be leaders think it depends on them, or at least on their being chosen. Indeed, our choice of a new president and vice-president (yes, don’t forget we need both), as well as Congress will determine much.
But not nearly as much as these leaders might think. Just ask President Obama, or either Bush or Clinton or Carter, etc. They each did a lot, but much they wanted to do never happened (and much they did not want to happen did so anyway).
Of course, our choice will say much about who we are at the moment of the election. It will say much about how we see the state of the nation, what we see as the good points and the not-so-good points.
What is the state of the nation today?
At home, some things seem to be going pretty well: an improving economy, falling unemployment, tumbling gas prices, low inflation, rising housing prices. Unfortunately, health care and college costs remain obscenely high. And the income gap grows as wages are too stagnant, and gun violence seems on the rise. At the same time, civil rights gains continue, even as the nation’s underlying white racist social structure continues to operate in many sectors. So, things are mixed at best.
Abroad, things look more dicey. ISIS continues to frighten the world, and now Iran and Saudi Arabia are at each other’s throats in another round of internecine Islamic religious warfare. Violence continues in parts of African and Latin America, too, and the ugliness in Israel/Palestine remains unchecked. There is a sense among many that the United States is no longer the leading nation of the world.
And yet, President Obama remains popular outside the country, other leaders look to him for leadership, and he wins some treaty victories (although not in the U.S. Senate). He is not the bragging, pushy leader many in our nation seem to want, but much of the rest of the world appears grateful.
It was only a few months ago that national polls showed just more than half of the country thought things were going pretty well. Then, came more gun violence, and particularly the Paris and San Bernardino massacres. Now, the numbers have gone below 50%.
Perhaps the most important factor in the decline is the presidential campaign. Republicans paint a dire picture–America is about to expire, if you listen to Donald Trump, but others don’t see things too much better–while Democrats are reluctant to be too positive for fear they will appear uncaring about our problems.
I reject the extreme dire view. It is bombast at best, and carries a not-so faint whiff of fascism.
We have many problems, to be sure. But the United States is still able to deal with them–we are dealing with many, despite frequent (but not universal) deadlock between the President and Congress.
So, right now, I am thinking the Republicans could do worse than re-nominate Ronald Reagan. He pointed with alarm at times, but most of the time, he just claimed that while things were okay, he could do better.
I did not vote for him–indeed, his nomination in 1980 was what finally drove me out of the Republican Party into which I was born. And his silence in the face of HIV/AIDS smelled just plain ugly.
You may think it then strange that I am waxing nostalgic about Reagan, especially because he is dead.
But despite his silence in the face of much that was evil, he was not a hater and he knew how to compromise with Congress. And he wanted peace, really wanted it, I think. Okay, he may not have been the brightest boy in the class, but who says the President needs to be brilliant (some say that is Obama’s greatest problem).
What the nation needs now, I believe, is someone who really believes in our possiblity as a nation–a nation where everyone is thriving and a nation that is the best leader for just and lasting global harmony.
If not Reagan, then I think FDR (see left).
As far as I can see, our best years are ahead. But we have to make the choices that will make it so.
One set of choices is at the ballot box–and there I am less sanguine about our future. But other choices lay elsewhere. About these I will write more in the days ahead.
We can do better than our leaders. We have done it before, and we can do it again.