My favorite political slogan is long forgotten. It was formulated for John Glenn’s non-orbital presidential race in 1984: “Believe in the Future Again.”
I didn’t fully understand why, but the words appealed as a counter to what I perceived as a weakening of America's prospects in the recession-ridden early 1980's. The Reagan campaign realized this sentiment, too, and “Morning in America” was born and the shout of ”U.S.A., U.S.A.,” became an empowering mantra.
But doubts about the future have not only lingered, but intensified. After going into positive territory during the boom years of Clinton's second-term, the right track-wrong track polling indicators have been mostly, or decisively, negative for 9 years.
The problems facing us are daunting. The ones we see — climate change, wealth inequality, persistent unemployment, political dysfunction — are bad enough. But it's the one we don't see that may be worse. A number of new books and monographs, notably one by Al Gore called “The Future: The Six Drivers of Global Change,” argue that changes in technology, science and man's impact on natural resources could accelerate faster than our ability to manage them, although Gore does offer real hope for how we can guide change rather than be its victim. This theme of a future where events threaten to overwhelm us also crops up in books about and papers about the global economy.
A mainstay of the American character has been optimism. What makes the immigration story so powerful, for example, is that it reminds us that the promise of America still burns brightly for some. But for too many now the future appears uncertain at best. Our government's impotence only makes the future appear bleaker and more unmanageable. Many of our leaders seem tired and discouraged. If the governed face the future with doubt and the governing are losing faith, our country is in real trouble. My guess is that there is a correlation between national optimism and achievement. Both seem headed in the wrong direction right now. It's time to believe again.