Re­mem­ber the good things that hap­pened in the past decade

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - PERSPECTIV­E - Steve Chap­man Steve Chap­man, a mem­ber of the Tri­bune Ed­i­to­rial Board, blogs at www. chicagotri­­man. schap­[email protected]­ Twit­ter @SteveChap­man13

Ten years ago, Amer­ica was in an aw­ful way. It had been through a decade of ter­ror­ism, war and re­ces­sion, which com­bined to cre­ate a per­va­sive sense of anx­i­ety. The world­wide ex­pan­sion of democ­racy had shifted into re­verse.

At the end of the first decade of the 21st cen­tury, the U.S. econ­omy was just be­gin­ning to climb out of the worst down­turn since the Great De­pres­sion. Un­em­ploy­ment was at 10%. Amer­i­cans were be­ing killed in Iraq at the rate of three per week. The war in Afghanista­n was go­ing so poorly that Pres­i­dent Barack Obama mounted a troop surge. Congress was bit­terly di­vided over his pro­posed health in­sur­ance re­form.

Through­out the world, the United States was los­ing in­flu­ence. In his 2009 book “The End of the Amer­i­can Cen­tury,” David S. Ma­son wrote that “in the past decade, and par­tic­u­larly since Septem­ber 11, ev­ery as­pect of this Amer­i­can dom­i­nance has be­gun to wane.” It was not only for­eign­ers who were dis­en­chanted with us.

Amer­i­cans were also be­set with dread, con­fu­sion and out­rage.

Today, we still have plenty of se­ri­ous prob­lems: cli­mate change, the epi­demic of opi­oid over­dose deaths, mass shoot­ings, the con­tin­u­ing bat­tle over health in­sur­ance. Not to men­tion Don­ald Trump and ev­ery­thing as­so­ci­ated with his poi­sonous pres­i­dency.

But the end of the decade is a mo­ment to re­mem­ber that good things have hap­pened since it be­gan.

■ The econ­omy has en­joyed the long­est ex­pan­sion in Amer­i­can history, re­duc­ing un­em­ploy­ment to 3.5% and push­ing up wages — with­out set­ting off inflation. The S&P 500 stock in­dex has tripled. Home prices, which plum­meted in the re­ces­sion, have re­bounded.

■ The U.S. left Iraq, and even af­ter the re­turn of Amer­i­can troops to fight the Is­lamic State in 2014, we have only about 5,000 mil­i­tary per­son­nel there now — com­pared with 136,000 in 2009. The num­ber of Amer­i­cans fight­ing in Afghanista­n is down from 51,000 in 2009 to 13,000. In 2009, the U.S. mil­i­tary lost 465 men and women in the two wars. This year, the num­ber is less than 40.

■ The mil­i­tary’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” pol­icy, which banned openly gay mem­bers, was lifted by Obama in 2011. Same-sex mar­riage, which was al­lowed in only a hand­ful of states and had been for­bid­den by state con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment in most, gained na­tion­wide con­sti­tu­tional pro­tec­tion thanks to a 2015 Supreme Court de­ci­sion.

■ Twenty states have banned dis­crim­i­na­tion on the ba­sis of gen­der iden­tity in em­ploy­ment, hous­ing and public ac­com­mo­da­tions. Only one state, North Carolina, en­acted a “bath­room bill” to keep trans­gen­der peo­ple from us­ing fa­cil­i­ties match­ing their gen­der iden­tity, and it even­tu­ally agreed to a fed­eral court set­tle­ment over­turn­ing key el­e­ments of the pol­icy. Both the Girl Scouts and the Boy Scouts de­cided to ad­mit mem­bers based on their gen­der iden­tity.

■ Osama bin Laden, mas­ter­mind of the 9/11 at­tacks, was killed by U.S. Navy SEALs in 2011, and Is­lamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Bagh­dadi died dur­ing a U.S. mil­i­tary raid in Syria this year.

■ Obama banned the use of tor­ture on sus­pected ter­ror­ists by the CIA, re­vers­ing the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pol­icy.

■ The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion granted pro­tec­tion to some 800,000 un­doc­u­mented for­eign­ers who were brought here as chil­dren. Courts have blocked the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s at­tempt to end the De­ferred Ac­tion for Child­hood Ar­rivals pro­gram, whose fate is now in the hands of the Supreme Court.

■ A suc­ces­sion of killings of un­armed black men by po­lice helped fo­cus last­ing at­ten­tion on Amer­ica’s per­sis­tent racial in­equities. This year, some Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates have en­dorsed repa­ra­tions for slav­ery and Jim Crow. The city of Evanston re­cently de­cided to use rev­enue from cannabis taxes to pay com­pen­sa­tion to black res­i­dents, who make up 17% of the city’s pop­u­la­tion.

Trump has done im­mea­sur­able harm on all sorts of mat­ters. But he has also cre­ated a pow­er­ful back­lash that has man­i­fested it­self in an­nual women’s marches, re­newed aware­ness of the per­sis­tence of racism, and public sup­port for mod­est gun reg­u­la­tions, cli­mate-change leg­is­la­tion, im­mi­gra­tion re­form, the Af­ford­able Care Act — and his im­peach­ment.

It says some­thing hope­ful about the Amer­i­can char­ac­ter that for al­most the en­tirety of his time in of­fice, a ma­jor­ity of peo­ple have dis­ap­proved of this pres­i­dent’s per­for­mance.

In 2019, it’s easy to think our politics will never get bet­ter — just as in 2009, it was easy to think the econ­omy would never get bet­ter. But when you hit bot­tom, most roads lead up­ward.


Gil­lian Smith, left, and Sarah Con­ner, a Chicago cou­ple, cel­e­brate af­ter their civil union cer­e­mony in Wrigley Square at Mil­len­nium Park on June 2, 2011.

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