Years ago I had a clergy colleague who described herself as a short term pessimist and a long term term optimist. Most often I agree, the other options being worse. I'll let you figure out why that's true.
These days, though, I am tending toward both long and short term pessimism. Seeing citizens brandishing arms at presidential appearances, hearing senators (the word comes from the Latin for elder) cavilling to the rabble, seeing opponents of health care reform from both sides castigating the president as the problem, listening to the preposterous credence being offered to those who insist he is a foreigner, and the complete abrogation of the media of their role as fact finders and truth tellers, has eroded my confidence that the American people will do the right thing any time soon.
More and more I see us heading toward our two preferred paths over time - denial and destruction. The former always leads to the latter. We denied the danger of slavery for a century, and it led the the destruction of the Civil War. We denied the cost of unregulated business for most of a century and it led to the Depression. We denied the lasting sin of racism for a century after the Civil War and it lead to the riots of the 1960s.
Again and again this great nation turned a blind eye to its persistent national challenges until they could be denied no longer. And as we all know, denial only postpones, it never solves. What's more, the longer we postpone facing a problem the more difficult the solution will be. It gets harder, and the cost gets higher, and so we deny it a little longer.
Ultimately, something dreadful happens - war, depression, civil strife. And people get hurt, even die. Mostly the poor, the young, the sick, the dark, the odd. They become our scapegoats. And after the storm, a sort of national 'psychotic break,' we regret it all terribly, enact laws to prevent it from happening again, forget about it again, and the cycle starts all over.
Men with guns, women shrieking at meetings, wild lies that truth cannot kill, these have always been with us. It is leaders, not leader singular but leaders plural, who decide either consciously or unconsciously whether we shall deal with our struggles our push them down the road a little further and hope they will go away. The complete abdication of leadership by those in power, not the president so much as the Congress and the media and the captains of industry, offends and scares me.
Was Yeats right after all?