America at its Best But We Still Have an Awfully Long Way to Go

Attention progressives: America, in many critical ways, is a better place than it has ever been. 

In the 1600s, indigenous people were trampled. 

In the 1700s, we seeded our nation with slavery. 

In the 1800s, we endured a great Civil War, a reckoning over our Original Sin. 

At the start of the 1900s, women didn’t attend college. 

In the 1910s, women didn’t possess the right to vote. 

In the 1920s, anti-Semitic legislation was enacted to limit immigration from Eastern Europe. 

In the 1930s, no Black player had yet been allowed to play Major League Baseball. 

In the 1940s, under FDR, we created internment camps to imprison Japanese-Americans.

In the 1950s, Blacks were ordered to the back of the bus.

In the 1960s, segregated water fountains belittled our highest values.

In the 1970s, a woman had not yet served on the Supreme Court.

In the 1980s, police brutality went widely ignored, with little public resistance or consciousness.

In the 1990s, gays were prohibited from serving openly in the military. 

In the early 2000s, the War on Terror heightened anti-Muslim sentiment as sexual harassment ran rampant, unchecked by a subsequent #MeToo movement. 

In the early 2010s, gay people remained barred from marrying those they loved.

At the start of 2020, we hadn’t yet elected a woman to be vice president. 

At the start of 2021, after violent insurrectionists egged on by our commander-in-chief desecrated our Capitol, our (admittedly dreadful) political system rose to at least one moment, certifying Joe Biden’s election victory, condemning in bi-partisan (but woefully insufficient) fashion a rogue, wild-eyed, figuratively frothing-at-the-mouth president. 

The political nightmare we’re enduring, while certainly featuring unique and terrifying characteristics, remains in many important ways an extension of our tortured but incrementally improving past, not a departure from our history. And, it should be noted, we’ll be severely tested in the days, weeks, months and years ahead; the tests will be painful, navigating the historically choppy waters. Optimists can hope we eventually emerge stronger, as we have in the past when we lived through bitterly divided eras. 

The fringe elements have always been here. Certainly, over the past four years, the dangerous wackos have been elevated and tolerated in a way they weren’t previously. But, also, it’s not just the Capitol-storming freaks and their ilk who constitute the split electorate. It’s also the good people of the country who, for example, resist cultural change. Change that seems inevitable and obvious in retrospect but change that was met with fierce resistance by generally good people since our founding.

Most of the more than 74 million Americans who voted for Trump are nothing like the rioters who engaged in treason on Wednesday. But some of the 74 million-plus do share political sensibilities with Americans of an earlier time who held beliefs that are widely rejected in 2021. 

Some political descendants of those Americans of an earlier age harbor unfortunate ideas of the day. The good news: the overwhelming majority of Americans hold cherished ideals – near unanimous ideals – that would have been considered enlightened in an earlier era but are mainstream today. Ideals politically like-minded descendants refuted. But this, perhaps counterintuitively, is what slow progress looks like. 

It should also be stressed that today’s progressive outlook will eventually appear outdated and lacking. If you want the ultimate proof of this general point, look to Lincoln. The Great Emancipator himself didn’t believe in racial equality even as he fought ferociously to unshackle slaves. 

Keep the faith and keep on fighting. As the famous Martin Luther King Jr. quote goes, the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice. There’s enormous work to do, as there’s always been.

Adam Stone is publisher of Examiner Media.

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