Optimism is essential during political hard times
It is hard to be optimistic about the state of politics in our nation. Both in Washington and Wyoming, we are faced with many problems and few solutions. Elected officials refuse to work toward solutions and instead spend their time trying to get one over on the other side.
News reports are full of politicians acting in bad faith, overtly lying, and appearing to get away with it. There is little accountability and even fewer consequences for poor behavior. In short, it is looking pretty rough out there.
The examples are almost too many to list. Multiple national political figures are in real legal trouble of their own making. Several will likely do jail time. Barely hidden racism and antisemitism are back in the mainstream.
Real issues like our government budget and international crises are barely being seriously considered, instead being used simply to score political points for future reelection campaigns.
It feels like the worst parts of ourselves and our society are on full display, even celebrated. Tribalism and a self-centered approach to politics are the norm. We take it for granted that our public officials will vote for party over principle. We expect them to be concerned with their own reelection over what is best for their constituents.
We have learned not to trust them, and with that comes the inevitable next step in that we have learned not to respect them. Many believe all politicians are corrupt. It is a hard position to argue against.
This unfortunate state has an element of self-fulfilling prophecy. Many of our best leaders step away because they do not see a way to make a meaningful difference. They are insulted and disrespected because they want to do the hard work of policymaking. Their absence allows even more of the self-serving types into office and the system gets worse and worse.
With all the bad in politics today, we can’t help but lose some of the faith we have in our political system. Why have things gotten this way? Is there any way out? We look at the world around us, see the changes in the past couple decades, and wonder whether there is a way to make things better. If there is, it is not easy to see.
Despite the current state of affairs, the American spirit is hard to break, and Wyoming’s especially so. We are optimistic people. We have overcome difficulties and thrived in hard circumstances. That is not something you can do if you are quick to see the worst in things, and it is a large part of what has made our country great.
We recognize that modern politics is leading us down a dangerous path, but for those that believe in the American nation and the American system of government, we have faith that we will find our way out of these bad times. Even though it feels as though our system is approaching a breaking point, we must remember that our nation has had bad times before.
The political environment in the United States has always had an ebb and flow. There were times of relative harmony between the parties where differences of opinion did not preclude bipartisan work and friendships.
There have also been times when partisanship has pushed our nation to a breaking point. In the 1790s, partisanship was so high that, during the presidential election, several states were prepared to send out their militias had Thomas Jefferson not been elected.
The animosity between the parties in the 1850s was also fierce, with Congressman carrying weapons and one representative beating a senator so badly that he was unable to return to his seat for more than three years.
This modern era is neither the 1790s nor the 1850s. No states are calling up troops to support a failed Presidential candidate, and we are not likely to see states secede if their preferred candidate loses the next election.
Rather, the challenges leading to our current disfunction are different than those faced in the past. We are learning how to deal with those we disagree with on more than just policy.
Our current problems are caused by a quickly changing society that has not yet got used to the rate of change. Some of the institutions we relied on to forge a common identity have weakened or disappeared and we have not yet built new ones. But we will.
For those, like me, who still try to see the best in our society despite the negative aspects pressing in, keep heart. Our nation is more than just this moment and things can and will improve.
We must not abandon the political sphere to our worst examples but must encourage our best to step forward. It may not be pleasant, but we have overcome worse and are strong enough to do so again.