Why I be­lieve in Amer­ica

The Star Democrat - - OPINION - LEE HAMIL­TON Lee Hamil­ton is a se­nior ad­vi­sor for the In­di­ana Univer­sity Cen­ter on Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Gov­ern­ment; a dis­tin­guished scholar, IU School of Global and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies; and a pro­fes­sor of prac­tice, IU School of Public and En­vi­ron­men­tal Af­fai

It’s so easy these days to de­spair about the fu­ture of our coun­try. It feels like half the peo­ple I run into just want to pull the cov­ers over their heads and ig­nore the news.

There’s dys­func­tion at the high­est lev­els of gov­ern­ment. Re­cent re­ports — the new book by Bob Wood­ward and a New York Times op-ed — re­veal that top ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials are so wor­ried about the Presi- dent’s im­pulses that they’ve formed a sort of “re­sis­tance” move­ment to thwart them. Many Amer­i­cans ex­press their dis­ap­point­ment in so many other Amer­i­cans for sup­port­ing politi­cians who do not seem to know how to make our rep­re­sen­ta­tive gov­ern­ment work.

And while drama dom­i­nates the daily head­lines, Congress is po­lar­ized, ham­strung, and in­ef­fec­tive. We’re sub­ject to Rus­sian elec­tion hack­ing with very lit­tle vis­i­ble ef­fort on the part of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to do some­thing about it. Dozens of vi­tal is­sues, from eco­nomic in­equal­ity to cy­ber-se­cu­rity, are go­ing largely un­ad­dressed.

So it might seem odd for me to sug­gest that we take a step back and count our bless­ings. But that’s ex­actly what I be­lieve we need to do right now.

Our his­tory should give us a shot of con­fi­dence. We have over­come for­mi­da­ble chal­lenges: a civil war, two world wars, re­ces­sions and de­pres­sions, and through it all, Amer­ica has not just sur­vived, but im­proved. In my work­ing life­time, I have seen this coun­try be­come a bet­ter place, plain and sim­ple.

We en­joy the world’s largest and most com­pet­i­tive econ­omy.

We have greatly im­proved the life of many older Amer­i­cans with pro­grams like So­cial Se­cu­rity and Medi­care. We’ve im­proved the lives of many younger peo­ple with col­lege schol­ar­ships and wider op­por­tu­ni­ties. And women and mi­nori­ties have had doors opened to them like never be­fore, even if there’s still room to im­prove.

We are the pre-em­i­nent diplo­matic and mil­i­tary power in the world. Though ter­ror­ism is a se­ri­ous worry, we do not face an im­mi­nent threat to our over­all se­cu­rity.

Our cit­i­zens, fed­eral em­ploy­ees, and mil­i­tary per­son­nel are en­gaged all over the world, for the most part do­ing their best to im­prove life for peo­ple else­where.

Per­haps most im­por­tant, we have cre­ated a coun­try where ev­ery­one has a chance to be­come the best she or he can be. There’s much room for im­prove­ment here, too — op­por­tu­nity is not equally ac­ces­si­ble. But there are plenty of peo­ple who’ve man­aged to get ahead in life even though the cards were stacked against them.

We should not sound ar­ro­gant, and we should ac­knowl­edge our mis­takes, but we have much to be proud of in our record as a na­tion.

I don’t want to sug­gest we don’t have big prob­lems. Of course we do. And just as note­wor­thy, progress over the decades doesn’t mean it’s in­evitable.

While China in­vests in ad­vanced ro­bot­ics, for in­stance, we’re re-in­vest­ing in coal. Are the cur­rent ad­min­is­tra­tion’s trade poli­cies lay­ing the ground­work for a pros­per­ous fu­ture? I worry that they’re not. What im­pact will our huge and greatly ex­pand­ing na­tional debt have on our na­tion’s fu­ture? No one knows for cer­tain, but it’s hard to be­lieve things will end well if we don’t ad­dress it.

What about the in­abil­ity of Congress to do its work? Nowhere is it writ­ten in the stars that things will con­tinue on as well as they have, es­pe­cially if our pol­icy-mak­ers don’t do their jobs.

But to con­front these prob­lems, and to start to forge so­lu­tions, you have to have a mea­sure of con­fi­dence in the sys­tem through which we’ll ad­dress them. And in this re­gard, our his­tory should give us a boost. My im­pres­sion is we need it.

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