“We are in this period of great anxiety because of economic uncertainty … and that has people worried about their future,” says Dan Glickman, a former Democratic congressman and Cabinet secretary affiliated with the Bipartisan Policy Center. “What they need is confidence building, and what I don’t think they sense from our government system is confidence building. Everything they see is division.”
But what do people expect when the country itself is divided. Government, in so far is it is a democratic reflection of the population it governs, is nothing more than a mirror for the turmoil that currently grips the people of this country. We are facing an economic crisis the magnitude of which we have not seen for many years. It is no surprise to me that there is a diversity of opinion on how to address the situation.
These differences are easy to paper over when the economy is good and a general sense of well being prevails, but make no mistake, these differences are brought to sharp relief when the harsh light of an economy faltering is shed upon it. Differences in how we perceive immigration, taxation, public welfare programs and restrictions on capitalist activities, we have been having this discussion since the founding of the country, and will likely continue to have it for the foreseeable future, irrespective of how the economy is doing.
What the economic crisis has done is invigorated these issues with a renewed sense of urgency as people grow increasingly desperate to find a solution to our woes before they become a full blown economic and social disaster. Added to this is our perceived decline relative to new international rival China. This adds to the growing hysteria by casting the downturn in a historical narrative of almost biblical proportions. This fear causes people to see the situation as an all or nothing proposition, as though if they don’t get it right, that there can be no second chances for the nation.
But such a perspective cannot compromise, for any retreat is a surrender of the future of America. Every issue is a critical battle in the war to save the country, to right the sinking ship and restore it to past glory for future generations.
The problem with this is two fold, however. First, there is no way of returning the country to how it was in the past. Too much has changed, both within the country and externally with relation to other nations and peoples. The rise of the United States was conditioned upon a very specific set of historical circumstances, circumstances that were inherently unstable and would have tended towards a leveling of American power relative to the rest of the world regardless of any particular economic downturn. The second problem, however, is the more significant one, and that is that the past is not simple as is popularly perceived.
As I noted earlier, the roots of today’s controversy extend throughout American history, and that history can only be understood when seen as a confluence of these multiple perspectives, an admixture of ideologies that simultaneously blend, contrast, and enhances one another. The historical values and traditions that conservatives long for were not possible without the liberal influences of people who sought to challenge the status quo and forge a new path for our nation’s people. And the liberal impulse is rooted in our past, a past which must be built upon, not abandoned, if this same liberal impulse is to be preserved and passed down to the next generation.
We can only hope that these two impulses can once again find people who can hold them while also finding a way to forge a path towards the betterment of the nation. The way forward can only be found together.