Restoration of Optimism

Author: Gary Hart

Cocked-eyed optimism has philosophical roots.  It springs from the Enlightenment, that movement that emerged in the late 17th, early 18th centuries premised on the belief that the human mind exploring new scientific breakthroughs, tolerant democratic government, and human flourishing would, with a few possible detours, inevitably lead to a better tomorrow.

Without knowing it, many of us, especially Americans, took this philosophical movement that so animated our nation’s Founders as a given, a premise of all future undertakings.  It wasn’t exactly Pangloss–we are getting better and better in every way–but it was a sense that we can aspire to achieve the highest goals our talents will allow.

No one is quite sure, but a few years back, perhaps sometime in the 1970s and 80s, this Enlightenment-fired optimism began to falter.  The usual causes are Vietnam, Watergate, assassinations, economic competition and dislocation, mass migrations, encountering the limits of environmental tolerance, and much else.

It was not accidental that Ronald Reagan’s vaunted optimism provided eight years in the White House with the one bright light, the end of the Cold War, as icing on the cake.  This was followed by booming markets and, shockingly, budget surpluses during the Clinton years.

Then, like a thunder-clap return to depressing reality, high-jacked planes flew into U.S. buildings, 3,000 American died, and welcome to the 21st century, a century so far of terrorism, endless wars, and, as the final closing of the door on the Enlightenment, the election of Donald Trump.  He was not elected for his optimism; he was elected for his anger and destructiveness.

The spiritual depression this experience has brought to many Americans is unprecedented.  Our Civil War and World Wars I and II are in the same vein, though different.  We pulled together and came out of them whole.  The Trump experience has yet to close and much of its meaning, if there is any, will be determined by how America chooses to move on.  Though analysts necessarily use Watergate as a touchstone for experience, this is much different.  Nixon had his supporters.  You might call them a “base” though I don’t recall that word being used.  But there are great differences.

By setting up a political system composed of a “deep state”, false news media, power hungry Democrats, treachery high and low, and no one, even in the White House and administration, who can be trusted, Trump has orchestrated a dangerous opera.  Whether brought down by the Mueller investigation or defeat in 2020, the message to the “base” will be: I am the victim of high-level treachery.

Those eager for impeachment, and the short-term satisfaction of escape from perhaps the wackiest two years in American history, tread carefully.  The Trump retreat to Mar-a-Lago, or wherever, is fraught with peril.  He will not go lightly, and he will not go graciously.  A third of the American people claim him as their leader.

Fanatical movements are on the rise in Western democracies and elsewhere.  We live in an armed state.  Radical right-wing groups are flourishing and are documented.  Proceed with caution.

If, as it is increasingly being predicted in high places, “impeachment is inevitable”, then it better be founded to the degree humanly possible on iron-clad, copper-riveted facts and indisputable law.  Mr. Trump is his own worst enemy and, if doors and escape hatches begin to close, his stability cannot be guaranteed.

Based on considerable experience, I have great confidence in the armed forces of the United States and in our intelligence and law enforcement agencies.  Congressional leaders must guarantee that these remain in Constitutionally-indoctrinated hands.  This is our most serious bulwark against mischief.

A serious national trial may well lie ahead.  It may well test our national commitment to Constitutional principles, the rule of law, and democratic government.  But we must also trust our country and, when the chips are down, the common sense and decency of the vast majority of our fellow citizens.

At stake in coming days is not only whether our native optimism can be recaptured, but even more importantly whether we will remain the country of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Roosevelt, and, yes, Ronald Reagan.


One Response to “Restoration of Optimism”

  1. Bill Pruden Says:

    You have painted a dispiriting but clear eyed and thus by no means unreasonable preview of what the coming year(s) may hold. There can be little doubt that the removal of the President from office–be it by impeachment or through the will of the electorate in 2020–will not happen easily. Certainly we cannot forget how in advance of his surprising victory two years ago he had already planted the seeds of doubt by talked about the election being “rigged.” Given all that has transpired in the past two years, one can only imagine what we would hear if impeachment or even electoral defeat forces President Trump’s exit from office. All of this you have thoughtfully addressed. The question becomes can we as a nation get ourselves back on track. While many argue that things have never been this bad before, they have been bad — indeed so bad that we went to war against ourselves, a conflict that continues to reverberate–and yet we have continued to stand as an exemplar of an admittedly flawed democratic ideal–and we can continue to do so. Perhaps that belief is a reflection of cockeyed optimism, and one cannot dispute the fact that Vietnam, Watergate, and non-existent weapons of mass destruction, among other things, have all chipped away at the faith so central to our system. And yet the American people have shown an impressive resilience in the past and as we noted last week a reading of our history serves as a reminder of the fact that the appropriate leaders and the national character–all dedicated to the preservation and continued pursuit of our distinctive bedrock principles–have emerged when we have needed it most. And yet it does not, and will not happen by accident. Rather those of us dedicated to those hallowed principles must work to see them realized. If such efforts are undertaken, if leaders emerge who will see beyond partisanship and their own interests, leaders who appeal to the best in us and not to our fears, then we can be optimistic about our future. As 2019 begins, we must all resolve to do our part to reaffirm what the United States is truly about. Senator, this blog and your continued commitment to those principles, yet the latest chapter in a lifetime of service are an inspiration and I thanks you. May 2019 bring you and all the devotees of this blog, happiness, and fulfillment as contributing members of the American and world community.

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