These last years have been difficult, and one can reasonably expect worse from Trumpism before that ideology is consigned – as it will be – to the political outer darkness. A necessary condition for optimism is an understanding of the present from which one can build a better future. (Local boosterism and babbittry are failures because they’re built on exaggerations and lies that produce only more exaggerations and lies.) Even in the midst of these troubled times, one sees the outlines of a restored, reconstructed America. One can see these outlines from events at home and abroad.
Over a year ago, Anne Applebaum observed Greece offers a glimpse of life after populism:
There was a moment, at the height of the Greek debt crisis in July 2015, when many Athenians went to sleep expecting to wake up in a different country. One Greek academic told me he feared Greece would crash out of the euro currency overnight, that there would be no money in the banks in the morning, that there would be food shortages and then riots: “Greece is a middle-class country,” he told me. “I didn’t think we would be able to cope with the shock.” Several others told me that they had genuinely expected the arrival of a Venezuelan-style dictatorship, perhaps with tanks on the street.
But the failure of Syriza [a populist party] has also triggered the opposite reaction [to apathy]: a small but growing attempt to revive economic liberalism, for the first time in recent memory, and to celebrate liberal democracy as well. A decade ago, fashionable intellectuals were all left-wing in Greece, and most books on politics and economics were written by Marxists. Now, it’s possible to sit down in a cafe with young people who describe themselves not only as “economic liberals” but also as “neoliberals,” adopting a phrase that was used as a harsh insult only a few years ago.
In America, Robert Reich observes Don’t Give Up — America Will Bounce Back:
The arc of American history reveals an unmistakable pattern. Whenever privilege and power conspire to pull us backward, we eventually rally and move forward.
Sometimes it takes an economic shock like the bursting of a giant speculative bubble. Sometimes we just reach a tipping point where the frustrations of average Americans turn into action.
Now, come forward in time with me.
Look at the startling diversity of younger Americans. Most Americans now under 18 years old are ethnically Hispanic, Asian or Pacific Islander, African-American, or of more than one race. In ten years, it’s projected that most Americans under 30 will be.
Three decades from now, most of America will people of color or of more than one race. That diversity will be a huge strength. Hopefully, it will mean more tolerance, less racism, less xenophobia.
Young people are determined to make America better. I’ve been teaching for almost 40 years, and I’ve never taught a generation of students as committed to improving the nation and the world as is the generation I’m now teaching. A record percentage of them voted in the 2018 midterm elections. Another sign of our future strength.