It was the summer of ’68. American cities were in flames, the country was torn apart by assassinations – Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy within months of each other – while students were in outright revolt against the Vietnam war.
The civil rights movement was reaching a crescendo, as were the efforts to resist. Governor George Wallace of Alabama promised segregation forever, and launched a nationalist-racist independent campaign against the relatively disliked mainstream candidates Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey. During the Democratic convention it appeared society was to break down in Chicago, as the police used tactics described as “gestapo like” to keep order.
Was the country falling apart? Conservatives were shocked by the changing moral values – mini-skirts, the sexual revolution, women wanting to work, burn their bras (alongside men wanting to burn their draft cards) and it appeared that order in America was about to collapse.
But the country didn’t collapse. Even though the turmoil of Watergate was still to come, the American public digested the changes, moved forward on civil rights, ended the war in Vietnam, and embraced a culture more open and liberal than before. Cities once burning rebounded. What appeared to be a national existential crisis at the time is now seen as an interesting historical moment, often remembered romantically rather than with fear.
Now, thanks to non-stop media, some think things are just as bad. A decorated military veteran unleashes a vicious attack against Dallas police, killing five. More examples emerge of innocent black men killed by cops driven either by overt racism or, more likely, fear and misunderstanding. The evidence for structural racism is real and profound, though nothing compared to the overt and extensive racism of the 1960s. There are protests, but the cities aren’t burning.
We’re going through cultural change, but rather than the backlash of the 60s against civil rights, those opposed to gay marriage seem more concerned about protecting the right of bakers not to bake cakes for gay marriages. Not an insignificant issue, but nothing like the kind of venom that drove George Wallace.
If you follow the media you will see America divided, with Trump leading a kind of peasant revolt against the smug, satisfied liberal intellectual class. Perhaps. But that’s part of the process of change, nothing new or essentially dangerous to our Republic. And Trump? Less a Mussolini than a Jesse the Body Ventura. He’s a media creation – all hype and no substance. Not a fascist, but a reality star sensationalist. If he wins he may not be much of a President, but probably not as dangerous as people fear.
And Hillary? A centrist Democrat. Despite the hype, she’s no more or less trustworthy than most (take that as you choose) and probably would run a competent government, though one not as aggressive in dealing with problems as many desire.
In short, despite the emotion of the stories that pound us on social media and the images brought by cable news, things really aren’t that bad. Unemployment is below 5%, nearly 300,000 jobs were created last month, and the country does not appear to be in danger of collapse or crisis; indeed, we may be in the verge of a mini-boom.
Does this mean we shouldn’t care about threats to black lives, blue lives, or those harmed by the maldistribution of wealth in society? Not at all – indeed, social media allows us to spread stories and act collectively in a way more effective and substantial than any time in the past. Yet that shouldn’t allow us to overlook the positive – many of those stories get spread via social media as well, and help us see that the world is not a cold, violent place. Rather, it is a place where communities and friends cooperate and build connections – with violence a relatively rare assault on that stability.
Facebook is plastered with stories about violence and anger. Yet in the world there are far more acts of love, kindness, consideration and caring than there are acts of hate. We read about a shooting and talk about it for days, we don’t read so much about those who take time to help and care for others, even though their numbers overwhelm the acts of fear/hate. So yeah, be upset or angry about injustice – but don’t be blind to the beauty, care, concern and love all around each of us every day. Therein is our power to defeat the hate and anger!
Things really aren’t that bad – and focusing on how bad they are probably does more harm than good. Focusing on the good that is out there and trying to expand and support it is really the best approach.