America is Still Okay

I’ve spent the morning watching the coverage of the 9/11 remembrance ceremonies and much of the last week or two reading various reflections on the course of the last 20 years.

The dominant narrative (as far as I can tell, the unanimous narrative) is that things are worse, that nothing good has happened in two decades and that the country is in bad shape.

While acknowledging some of that, let me offer a different perspective.

Despite a lot of mistakes (we should not have invaded Iraq), despite some tough economic hits (2008), despite domestic terrorism becoming a more serious threat than international terrorism (too many examples to list), despite the unmitigated horror that is Donald Trump, America is still standing. We’re still a functioning democracy. Our institutions have been knocked around a bit, but they still work.

And, yes, we’re divided, but the truth is that we’ve been much more divided in the past. The Civil War is the obvious example, but the following half century was not much better. Jon Grinspan’s wonderful book, The Age of Acrimony, documents just how divided the nation remained until the Progressive Era and two world wars helped forge a less divisive union. In fact, Grinspan makes a convincing case that unity is much more the exception in America than the rule.

For those of us who grew up in mid and late twentieth century America, we became accustomed to the relative calm. Even accounting for Vietnam, Watergate and traumatic political assassinations, in the context of American history, the five decades between the end of WW II and the early twenty-first century were relatively sanguine.

So, what’s going on right now might be thought of as more a return to form than anything else.

And, here’s the thing. America was designed and built to work with human conflict in mind. It does not require that everyone work together or that everybody be on their best behavior. In fact, it assumes just the opposite.

America is no delicate or vulnerable thing. It endures. We’ll be alright.

Welcome to the 206th consecutive day of posts here at YSDA. Thanks for reading.


Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

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