There Are a Lot of Reasons to Feel Optimistic about America’s Future

America statue of libertyAfter Wednesday’s gloom, here are a few thoughts about reasons for optimism for the future . . .

We groan that we’re governed by crooks, incompetents, and morons, but we’ve actually done a pretty good job of solving the problems that faced this country a generation ago.

Crime rates? Way down from the 1990s. Drunk-driving rates? They hit a new all-time low a few years ago. Air travel keeps getting safer and cheaper.

Teen-pregnancy rates? Steadily declining. The abortion rate? The lowest since Roe v. Wade passed. Our infant-mortality rate is low and getting even lower.

High-school graduation rates? Highest level ever. With the exception of marijuana, teen drug use is down dramatically. Very few teenagers are succumbing to the national opioid-abuse epidemic. Teenage binge drinking is way lower than in the 1990s.

Slightly more than a third of American adults have a four-year college degree, the highest level ever measured by the U.S. Census Bureau. College enrollment has dropped by 2.4 million since 2011 . . . but one might interpret that as a customer base rejecting an overpriced product.

You’ve heard about the low unemployment rate. When Vice President Mike Pence boasts that more Americans are working than ever before, skeptics scoff that it simply reflects that the American population is larger than ever before. But there are now more job openings than unemployed workers. The all-time high in the employment-to-population ratio was 64.7 percent in April 2000; we’re currently at 60.4 percent. It got as low as 58.2 in 2010. (Census Bureau figures indicate that 4.4 percent of those 85 or older are still working!)

Census Bureau data indicate that the median U.S. household income in 2016 was $59,039 — and that the past two years combined have shown the fastest growth since the 1960s. The poverty rate is 12.7 percent, almost but not quite to pre–Great Recession levels. Yes, we would like to see some better numbers for wage growth, but separate Labor Department data just released days ago showed workers’ wages and salaries increased 2.8 percent over the past year. The Federal Reserve and Wall Street economic forecasters feel confident for the future.

We fear terrorism, but one of the reasons that terrorism and asymmetrical warfare is rising is because conventional war is growing rarer. We don’t have many country-vs.-country wars anymore, and that’s a blessing. We have Russia’s small-scale war against Ukraine. We have civil wars — Syria, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Yemen, Mexico’s struggle against the cartels. (Even in these cases, on a global scale, the number of casualties is declining, although it’s fair to wonder how accurately they can count the dead in places like Syria.) But you don’t see tanks and artillery crossing borders the way you used to — and that’s a blessing.

Every day since 9/11, the jihadists have wanted to execute the most spectacular attack they could. Most days they achieve nothing. Some days they launch attacks in places most Americans have never heard of, and once in a great while, they launch an attack on American soil with a fraction of the casualties of 9/11. We live in a world where most Americans don’t think about terrorism every day, a condition that was unthinkable 17 years ago.

Osama bin Laden is dead. Mullah Omar’s dead too. The Islamic State doesn’t control any territory anymore, and we don’t hear from Ayman al-Zawahiri or Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi much. Considering where we were, and what we feared would follow 9/11, the jihad against the United States must be classified as a catastrophic failure so far.

Coalition military casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan are down dramatically in the past five years.

Yes, we live in an era of serious challenges to American military superiority. But we still have some pretty ingenious minds giving us an edge. DARPA is developing drones that will never need to land or refuel; space planesswarms of tiny flying robotsIED-proof vehicles that don’t need windows; and guided rounds capable of zeroing in on a target, enabling novice shooters to hit moving targets. (That’s right: Someday soon, we’ll be able to shoot around corners.) Lockheed Martin is developing hypersonic weapons, missiles that travel at Mach 5, roughly one mile per second. No wonder no one wants to get into conventional wars with us anymore.

If you grew up in the 1990s, you probably thought AIDS would be the scourge of the 21st century. New drugs and treatment drove the HIV mortality rate down in the United States by more than 80 percent, and the number of new infections is down by two-thirds. In the 15 years since the Bush administration enacted PEPFAR — the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief — the program has saved 14 million lives.

One of the laments on Wednesday was the ever-growing economic power of Amazon. Still, the company largely earned its way to the top with a revolutionary service. Think about it: You can get just about any book, movie, DVD set, toy, article of clothing, or gadget ever created delivered to your door for a pretty modest price. This is a gift of knowledge, art, and literature on a scale that was inconceivable for most of human history. Just a generation ago, readers were limited to what the manager of their local bookstore or B. Dalton thought was a good title.

The flip side of my fear about too much escapism into virtual reality and immersive gaming is that you, the consumer, have never had more options for entertainment. Thanks to computer graphics, there is really no great novel, comic book, historical era, or idea that would be impossible or too expensive to film.

As a creator — whether it’s writing, the visual arts, music, filmmaking — you’ve never had an easier time bringing what you create to a vast audience. This doesn’t guarantee that your work will find an audience, but the old gatekeepers separating you from your potential audience don’t function in that role anymore. Self-published books can turn into big Hollywood movies.

The Internet and modern technology have eliminated a lot of those little annoyances of life from a generation ago. Need to find out where to go? Use the map app on your phone. Think about how much less frequently people get lost compared to before the Internet era.

I lamented Americans’ excessive use of 911 on Wednesday, but let’s face it — we’re all probably safer knowing that at the site of any car accident, fire, or crime, somebody can dial 911 with their cell phone. Think about all the phone-recorded video that has exposed wrongdoing.

Do you need to fix something in your house? There’s a good chance there’s a YouTube video showing you how to do it. Did you lose the instruction manual for that so-called easy-to-assemble furniture? There’s a good chance the manufacturer posted it online for download.

Your local supermarket probably has way more varieties of food, of better quality, than it did a generation ago. You can find six-packs from small breweries and craft beers in supermarkets now. You could go to a place like Total Wine and never run out of new options. If you have food allergies, or practice religious dietary restrictions, or are vegetarian or vegan, lactose intolerant or gluten-free, most restaurants understand and will try to accommodate you.

Think about how rarely you get stuck behind someone at the grocery line paying for everything with a check. Yes, your email inbox gets a lot of spam, but you have quicker access to more people than ever before and the important stuff is much less likely to get “lost in the mail.” We gripe about Facebook, but now we know what happened to all of those old classmates, neighbors, and friends from earlier chapters of our lives.

Think about the many pictures you take now for which you don’t have to buy and develop film.

Think about how much more you know about your health thanks to your FitBit or other wearable health-monitoring devices. Think about how many people are going to have their lives saved now that defibrillators are getting more common in public places.

Think about how many people don’t die in car accidents, now that most cars on the road have airbags and crumple zones. Advances in steel allow engineers to design structures that can dissipate and redirect the force of the crash.

If, as Yuval Levin says, conservatism begins with gratitude for what is good and what works in our society and then striving to build on it, we can and should be thankful to be living in this moment, and in this society — even with all of its flaws and the daily screaming headlines of bad news.

A right-of-center foreign-policy analyst called my attention to this quote from Germany’s foreign minister, Heiko Maas, during a speech in Tokyo a little more than a week ago:

“In this geopolitical situation we need Germany and Japan to close ranks,” Maas said. “Alone, it will be tough for us to be a ‘rule maker’ in this multipolar world. When we combine our powers, we can perhaps become something like a ‘rule shaper’ — designers and motors of the international order.”

Germany and Japan, getting back together and combining their powers to design a new international order. Gee, if only there was some sort of nifty nickname we could give this alliance, like they’re trying to get the world to spin on a new axis . . . If this guy starts talking about inviting Italy to the party, watch the skies over Hawaii.

Paraphrasing an old Dennis Miller joke, I look at a new Germany–Japan alliance the same way I look at a Hall & Oates reunion tour. I wasn’t a fan of their old work together, and I’m not all that eager to see the new stuff.

From National Review

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Brian B
4 years ago

Americans certainly have much to be thankful for. But one might ask, then, why are suicides at epidemic levels in America? Why is alcohol consumption rising so rapidly? Why is church attendance at an all-time low in America, while online pornography, online gambling, and other Internet-based addictions at epidemic levels world-wide?
We can (and should) be thankful for our blessings. But we must not be deceived into believing that our Internet-based world and ubiquitous technology is making us happy.
We are happy when we carefully select and internalize our values. Happiness comes from service and unselfishness, and a belief that we have something of worth to contribute to the world.
As a boy I learned an ancient proverb that holds a key to happiness: “We are happy when we have someone to love, something to do, and something to look forward to.”
I am not currently very optimistic about the world. I am only optimistic that I can be happy despite it’s systemic failures. And I think every conservative-minded man, woman and youth can be happy as well.

Ivan Berry
4 years ago
Reply to  Brian B

So well expressed, Brian B. And so far as the arts go, if you are not a socially progressive writer, film maker, artist, etc. fat chance of entering the chosen market.
Food selections: just too many versions does not make for easy shopping: salt free/salt added; same for sugar, monosodium glutimate, … Check the chips isle in any wallmart–can you find what you are looking for, or is the field just too vast?
May your “someone to love, something to do, and something to look forward to” be done in three little words, “Get a life.”
Well done, Brian.

4 years ago
Reply to  Ivan Berry

Hi Ivan,

Another weekend has rolled around. While the article did a reasonable job of outlining some of the reasons why America’s future MAY BE BRIGHT (depending on how Americans decide to pursue the various options in front of us), a lot of optimism about the future comes down to how people elect to lives their lives and face the daily challenges like tosses our way. Some people can have everything in the world and be totally miserable. While others can be just getting by, but have a positive outlook and are willing to work to better their lives. There is no one unique answer to what fuels optimism in the American people, because everyone views the world through their own personal lens.

In simple terms, you can put two people in front of the exact same situation and one may throw up his or her hands and say nothing can be done. The situation is hopeless, because that is all the person can focus on. To that person, there is no reason to be optimistic, because all that is seen is the potential negative outcomes. The other person may look at the exact same situation and figure out a way to make the situation work for the better. Either adapting to the situation being presented or figuring out a way to negate the potential downside so the outcome is either positive or at least neutral in effect. Again, it is all how you view the options and opportunities being presented to you on a daily basis. America’s future can be optimistic if we are willing to do whatever it takes to address the mountain of issues and problems that have built up over the last several decades, while the public largely wasn’t paying attention and always thought “somebody else will take care of it”. Well when most of the public thought “somebody else will take care of it”, nobody was left to take care of it. At least not enough of us to overcome the inertia of the general public. So the issues and problems just kept piling up.

Fortunately, we have a brief window for however President Trump is in office, to actually correct SOME of the most glaring issues on the table. That is if the American people want to get actively involved and force the issues with Washington. If we want a longer period of time to address more issues, then we will have to continue to make the same kind of choices as we did in electing Trump. We’ve talked about this many times over the years. Apathy and indifference in the general public is what has allowed most of these issues to fester and grow. This didn’t start with Obama. He was just the end result of decades of “somebody else will take care of it” coming home to roost in the form of American electing an open socialist not once, but twice. If the public wants to do more than simply complain and think President Trump is going to do everything single-handed, then America can experience a pretty positive future. Otherwise, you know as well as I do where we will end up when the next Democrat is elected to the oval office or the Democrats control one or both houses of Congress.

By the way, I like both your and Brian’s comments. You both did a great job of articulating your perspectives on the issue. Have a good weekend.

Ivan Berry
4 years ago
Reply to  PaulE

So true. Here’s hoping, but also striving for the best.

4 years ago
Reply to  PaulE

Very well said, Brian B, Ivan Berry, and PaulE.

There has never been and there is not now any other country in the world where we “ordinary” citizens are able to decide our futures for ourselves to the extent that we are. Having a Constitution that limits the powers of government, that gives us the freedom to choose our leaders, and that wisely directs most governing to the states and to the individual….what a blueprint for success.

Of course, it is up to us individuals to RESPONSIBLY exercise the rights and privileges endowed upon us. Whether your vote is based on a short-term greedy inclination to get as much as possible for “free”, or on the goal of doing the most good for the most people sustainably for future generations, our votes must be based on a thorough examination of costs and consequences. And that’s where we fall short in this country. Too many people resort to pulling the D lever or the R lever out of habit. And we all know how difficult it is to break a habit. But look at some examples from the “Walk Away” movement to see that it CAN happen. We need to be able to discern the merits or the worthless promises of each of the candidates. Know WHY the R candidate might be better for your state or the country, and know how to articulate the difference to those around you who don’t. As PaulE has said, we need to keep talking to our youth and to the other side, or we will have to live with the consequences.

Yes, it’s a great time to be alive. It’s all in the choices we make politically and personally….most importantly, in the way we view our place in the world. Sure, each of us went through hard times at some point in our lives, but an optimist will always welcome the next day because it MIGHT be better.

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