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How will we look back on the 2020’s?


I started early as an observer of American politics. When I was five years old I would rush to the television any time I saw President Bush (41) standing at the podium, or crossing the tarmac to Air Force One.

Strange kid, I know.

Early in life it was impressed upon me that America began differently than other countries. Instead of a king we had a president. The president was like the king of America, I thought, but he was different because he won his position by earning the respect of his fellow Americans. I was an American. From that I concluded ‘this man is my leader. He must be a great man. It must be important to listen to whatever he has to say.’ And so I did.

This many years later I actually am of the opinion that President Bush was at least a good man. But that is aside from the point.

Though we are a modern nation, the United States of America still has its pageantry and mythology. Drive through Washington D.C. and you will see statues and monuments to American statesmen and civic leaders array our nation’s capital as a pantheon of heroes. Live on a military base and the golden ring of trumpets will call men and women of arms to salute the flag. When the President of the United States enters the Capitol to address a joint session of congress, he is announced by the House sergeant-at-arms in a booming call: “Mr. (or Madame) Speaker – the President of the United States!”

I quickly learned to be a bit cynical towards all that ceremony, however. By the time I was twelve it was clear to me that the hypocrisy of politics had made mockery of the pageantry. Bill Clinton had lied to the American people, which was bad enough. Newt Gingrich and congressional Republicans however had tried to impeach him for this offense, which (in my world) paled before the importance of the good job Clinton was otherwise doing, bringing the business of the American people to a halt.

My father explained to me that the presidency was not revered in the way it once was back when Jack Kennedy (Dad and Grandpa’s hero) held court in the Oval Office. It started with Watergate, and the mischief of Richard Nixon. The public learned not to trust the government, and the media abandoned its deference to the privacy of the President. Americans were dividing. It was sad to see.

Today however there is nostalgia for the 90’s because of how unmoored American politics have become in the present day. It seems strange that some should feel grateful for a time that seemed like a low point when it was actually happening.

Strange – but maybe not strange at all.

When Jack Kennedy was elected Americans lived in fear of nuclear annihilation. His assassination accelerated a decade of social upheaval beyond what we see today. But those years would mark the end of Jim Crow segregation and the beginning of man’s journey into the heavens. The 90’s, for all its challenges (far beyond Clinton/Lewinsky), would hail prosperity, the fall of the Soviet Union and the wonders of the information age.

One day, we will likely look back on the America of the 2020’s with nostalgia as well. The weighty question is simply why?

Will it be because American democracy declines so terribly that these chaotic years will look peaceful by comparison?

Or – will it be because the resiliency of the American people, our culture and our system of government, proved itself capable of triumph in the face of adversity yet again?

This is a question for all ages, and for our own. Through our deeds, we will answer it.

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