Why There’s Reason to Believe America Has a Bright Future

From a Washington Post column by Megan McArdle headlined “Why there’s reason to believe American democracy has a bright future”:

As July Fourth approached, I’d been thinking about a question that was put to the table at a recent lunch I attended: What big things are you optimistic about? I think my answer won the prize for most surprising: I am bullish about American democracy.

I’ve no doubt that many readers will find this answer a bit counterintuitive. To conservatives who are concerned about “woke capital,” the “deep state” and the ideological capture of the expert institutions that inform government policy, it might even sound crazy. And no less so to liberals who worry about a conservative Supreme Court rolling back decades of progress, as well as Donald Trump.

So in honor of 247 years of American independence, let me lay out why I am still optimistic about our country’s future.

To people on the right, I would note that the capital appears to be undergoing a Great Unwokening, and the hated deep state is the same bureaucracy that validated the Hunter Biden laptop suspicions and spent years investigating him. As for expert capture, yes, it is real. But over the long run, I’m more worried that political showboating will discredit experts who have true and important information to share.

To the left, I would point out that the republic has survived many sudden reversals of Supreme Court precedent, as well as the discovery of all sorts of new rights, under the Warren and Burger courts. Disliking the results of judicial fiats is not the same as proving they are incompatible with a functioning democracy.

As for Trump, yes, he would, if he could, bulldoze every American institution that stands in his way — but note how conspicuously he has failed to do so. When he was president, American institutions were tested, but while they creaked a bit here and there, they ultimately held strong.

Will they continue to do so? Many on the left see Trump’s failings as the natural outgrowth of various troubling currents on the right and therefore fear he is a harbinger of even worse to come.

Perhaps, but I think this worry ignores how unique Trump’s successes have been, how dependent on things such as his celebrity, his wicked genius for dominating a screen, and a too-crowded primary field where that talent mattered enormously. It is, of course, a depressing sign that even after Jan. 6, 2021, he still dominates the coming GOP primary. But it’s also heartening that his pale imitators aren’t having anything like his success. There is no Trumpism; there is only Trump. And Trump will eventually leave the stage.

U.S. democracy has rebuilt itself from centuries of chattel slavery and another hundred years of Jim Crow; from the Trail of Tears and the Japanese internment; from the Palmer Raids and the Comstock Act and the Red Scare. It recovered from anarchist bombs and urban crime waves and any number of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s wilder schemes, including his plan to pack the Supreme Court. No matter how bad you think things look right now, you can find worse in American history — emphasis on “history.” Americans got through it. We can again.

Sure, maybe this time is different and America has finally broken itself. Maybe the antidemocratic talk has gone too far; maybe left and right hate each other too much to come together as a nation ever again. But let me close with the story I told the lunch table to explain why I don’t find all the dialed-up-to-11 online rhetoric so worrisome.

the early 1930s, a sociologist named Richard LaPiere spent two years traveling across the United States with a Chinese couple — a fraught activity, given then-pervasive bigotry against Asians. Fortunately, they were refused service at only one of 66 hotels and none of the 184 restaurants they entered. Afterward, however, La Piere followed up with a questionnaire to those establishments, asking whether they would accept “members of the Chinese race.”

Of those who responded, more than 90 percent said they would not.

We all know that people sometimes pretend to be better than they are — for example, by saying they care about racial equality while choosing segregated neighborhoods and schools. But this can also work the other way: Sometimes, people will confess an abstract hatred they’d never act on with an actual human being in front of them. So when I wonder whether Americans really hate each other too much to live as one nation, I look not at what people are saying online but how they behave in person.

Watch Americans dealing with one another day to day and you will mostly see them going out of their way to be nice. There are far more random acts of kindness in this country than there are drive-by shootings, and far more people acting with honesty and integrity, even when no one’s looking, than there are con men and thieves. We focus on the latter precisely because they are rare.

Which is why, for all the bad, America is better than it thinks itself. And I dare to believe that, in the future, it will be better still.

Megan McArdle is a Washington Post columnist and the author of “The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success.”

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