It is so easy for us to sink into the feeling that America (The United States of America, that is) is going downhill at an increasingly rapid rate. Opinions about our President have few middle grounds – it's either love or hate. Gay rights issues polarize many. Schools are under attack, literally. China is taking all our money. And, of course, there are always the proponents that predict the Biblical end is near.
What got me thinking more on this subject was a book review in the Montgomery Advertiser on Sunday 12/22/2013, by Rasha Madkour on the new book by Doris Kearns Goodwin titled “The Bully Pulpit.” I haven’t read the book yet, but the review gave enough information to conclude that the lives and presidencies of Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft were rough and difficult.
In a conversation with a fellow teacher, I learned that the contentious US presidential election right after President Lincoln's assassination had the country teetering on the edge of disaster. Going back further, the signers of the Declaration of Independence put their livelihood and lives on the line signing that document – and most had much to lose.
It just seems to me that we are infinitely further along today on almost all humanitarian and economic issues, both here and abroad. Equal opportunities without regard for race or gender have made great strides. While Finland may lead the way in secondary education, we're still doing well with the diversity of our population. Most US presidents had a love/hate relationship with the population while in office. In extreme cases, they resigned or did not get reelected. Our country began its life with strong support of isolationism. We've "progressed" to a world economy of sorts.
If you haven't seen the www.youtube.com 4 minute BBC video by Hans Rosling titled "200 countries, 200 years," it's worth a watch. Hans describes how the world has progressed in both economic and health terms over the last 200 years. If you have 20 minutes, watch his video titled "Hans Rosling: Stats that reshape your world-view." Both will do much to give you confidence in what is happening in our world. He is very fresh and entertaining.
Whenever I get into a funk about the US, I just read some history and realize how far we've come. I realize that this thing we call democracy has always been tough; that we developed out of conflict; and that the only time we should get concerned is when it becomes easy or when confrontations end. Feel better now?
Gene Canavan is a retired West Point Graduate and Paper Mill Utilities Manager and lives in Prattville, Alabama, USA.