We now have elected a new president of the United States. That is a monumental event that reminds us of the greatness of our country. No matter the turmoil, our system has worked. As Winston Churchill said, democracy is the worst form of government … except for all the rest. Democracy is messy and has always been, but perhaps in this era of turmoil, including the unprecedented financial crisis, we are scratching our heads and wondering if our democracy really is in trouble.
In part, we listen to the experts who say it definitely is – that democracies eventually break down and ours at 220-plus years is at its limit. We listen as the cacophony of voices continually remind us of our worst traits, and we eventually break into special interest groups who forget our obligation and responsibility to exercise our civic duties such as being informed, inclusive of others and employing basic leadership principles.
The loss of democracy is also owed in part to our confusion as a people. Who knows what to believe anymore? Our 24-hour news cycle bombards us with information and the “news” of the hour – hurricanes today, child snatchings the next and the “bailout” turned into the “rescue” plan the following. I often say I am a card-carrying member of the “I know too much club,” and the next step is cynicism. I believe many Americans are already there.
But I refuse to follow the needle to cynicism. I am optimistic that as a people we are resilient and we will work through the challenges we face. Before the most recent financial crisis, my cry of hope was this: We are moving to a new age – one where people are rejecting the cold, flickering computer screen in the middle of the night. In the aftermath of Katrina, it is sinking in that the cavalry isn’t coming. We must bear more responsibility for our own safety and needs while now living within our means.
I add one more moment of hope in the face of our financial crisis – that we as a people have an unprecedented opportunity to redefine the American Dream. Already, our young people are showing us new ways: fancy purses that can be rented instead of bought, vintage stores, my son insisting on not having a baby shower because, “They will buy us only new stuff,” he said, and then added, “We want used.”
Thomas Friedman spoke recently during the Energizing Kentucky Conference, adding a sprinkle of hope and inspiration. He talked of the greening of America being bigger than just bringing down the cost of energy and environmental protection. It offers us the opportunity to reinvent America with a new wave of excitement and direction. It brings home my message that as the world grows bewilderingly out of control and we feel powerless to do anything, we do, indeed, have an opportunity to reinvent the world.
We do it locally first, with what we can put our arms around. Next, we reinvigorate our desire to change the world for the better. As we begin with a new leader in the White House, it is the time for each of us to accept our responsibility for making the world better by starting at home, rolling up our sleeves and making some hard decisions that won’t always feel good today.