Our history is marked with events and seasons when Franklin's doubts became prescient. The Revolutionary War tipped back and forth and some historians still marvel that we were successful. The Civil War brought to forefront an already divided nation. The World Wars, Cuban Missile Crisis, assassination of Presidents, impeachment and resignation of Presidents, and vast swings in the "prevailing political winds" through the decades...all have given us, to varying degrees and at different times, reason to pause...and wonder.
But we have pressed on and this great American experiment has not only survived, but flourished. Yes, leadership matters, but over these years we have increased in our national DNA the ability to survive, at worst, and prosper, at best. We have put our collective shoulders to the wheels of justice and politic and worked toward "a more perfect Union."
Often, too often, headlines today tell of hopelessness and despair. And we, as common citizens, ride the rollercoaster of "who's in and who's out" with both thrill and fear. It's an easy trap all of us, from the most conservative to the most liberal, fall into all too quickly.
We've never had saviors or messiahs. Just men, in the Presidency, and women who take their moment on the stage and perform their tasks with all the clay-footedness of mere mortals. We cheer them on with the enthusiasm of Friday Night Football, or run them down, as if the end of that game defines us forever, winners or losers.
But, in our more sober moments, when 9/11's befall us or a space craft falls from the sky or the flag passes in a Fourth of July Parade, we are reminded that, indeed, we are...all Americans.
Whether we live in the big city or a rural hideaway, whether our neighbors are mostly like us or very different, we find great comfort and strength in the American ideal and, on our best days, are compelled to pursue it with gusto, lacking political pretense or cultural conviction. We, in some ways, become those men in Philadelphia, hoping for something still not quite clear or settled in our sights.
And, to me, that is America. Divided and united, squabbling and saluting, protesting and prodding, but never turning from the ideals that have brought us thus far. These ideas, tattered as they can become from time to time, outlive Presidents and politics and will outlive every one of us around today's coffee table.
I'm hopeful. Never have been more hopeful. Not because of "current circumstances", whatever you want to define that. Since WWII? Since Vietnam? Since whatever President or Presidents you or I supported and cheered? Hope is vested beyond the present. Hope looks upward and outward. How many times might General George Washington have retreated to Mt. Vernon if he had such a short view of "The War?" How many stitches might Betsy Ross have dropped from that first flag if she sewed only on the news of the morning or the beliefs of her neighbors?
I don't have to believe America is the greatest country on earth to believe that it is GREAT. Every skirmish...military, political, cultural, even theological...does not signal a certain future. And that makes me hopeful...and maybe a little too proud.
But I love this country, believe in its people, have confidence in our history, and believe my grandchildren have every hope of experiencing it similarly. Two and a half centuries ain't cheesecake, and there are generational forces and ideals that are greater than all of us. We were born into them and have been shaped by them. We push them forward in our own awkward way. But they do move.
Unrest is more common to our history than idyllic peace. We can pick out a decade or two and proclaim them the "good times," but we become victims to our own prejudice and shortsightedness when we do. Democracy is a struggle. It has been so for all of our Country's years. But we have pushed and pulled and pressed forward, for the most part. In spite of all the news wherever we get it, our country is a better, more peaceful, more just place than it was even at the beginning of my lifetime.
Hope is not the absence of fear. Hope looks through fear and sees the sun yet rising again. It is bound into the human condition. It is American. It is written into the holy words of every major world religion, and, in my faith tradition, it is the Gospel!
- A Hopeful American