Past, Present, and Future

It’s comparatively easy to argue about the past, and we’re spending an awful lot of time doing that just now. (We have been for a while, really.)

It’s much harder to contemplate an uncomfortable or unacceptable present, or to dream up a new way forward.

(It’s worth remembering, too, that it’s really bad history to pretend that we can be free of our past whenever we choose or that the past is a perfect guide to the future. Good luck electing George Washington today, never mind what he’d do about any of our major policy challenges.)

The uncomfortable fact is that too many people can’t or won’t accept what our culture offers for the present or the future right now, and not without reason. And in the context of the United States, that might be a genuinely new feeling: some level of cynicism or woe-is-us is normal, but a widespread sense that there’s nowhere to go but down — a sense that’s backed up by the math, which is reinforced by policy choices — is new, at least in living memory.

If we were able to step outside of history for a moment, I don’t think too many people would choose the “freedom” to live lives nastier, poorer, more solitary, more brutish, and shorter than those lived by citizens of other leading economies.

The challenge — and, likely, the once-in-a-lifetime invitation — is to step back into our history and choose a future that more people can really live with.