Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

Facing the Future

Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

Facing the Future

Article excerpt

A friend wrote recently. She worries about America's future. The culture of marriage is weakening. We seem unable to restrain the ever-growing size of government. Iran, Egypt, Syria - where's American leadership? She wonders whether our nation has the capacity to deal with its problems, or even to acknowledge them.

These are legitimate concerns, but we need to be sure that we don't misjudge our circumstances. Last year Commentary asked me to contribute to a symposium on the future of America. It's true, I wrote, that "we face many challenges: the fiscal crisis of the modern welfare state, the end of American military super-hegemony, an elite culture bent on dismantling the Judeo-Christian moral consensus." No doubt readers can add still more reasons to be pessimistic. After Romney's defeat, many conservatives have entertained dark thoughts about how we've reached a tipping point. A majority of Americans are now dependent on government. The moochers are overwhelming the producers, as some crudely put it.

I'm not so pessimistic. As I wrote last year,

The American myth has a remarkable - an unprecedented - absorptive power. It reabsorbed a defeated South after the Civil War. It absorbed and still absorbs waves of immigrants - even the children of ex-slaves, whose suffering and humiliation should have made them eternal enemies. A decade ago at my church, one of the elderly black members wept as he watched a documentary about the Tuskegee Airmen, black pilots in World War II who had to endure Jim Crow while training in the South. "How," he said to me afterwards, "could our country have been so unjust to those men?" Our country! I defy anyone who understands the anguish of that man (who had himself grown up under Jim Crow!) to be anything other than an American optimist. Deficits, unemployment, new international threats, the fraying moral fabric of society - has any generation, any nation not faced these or similar challenges? …

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