I have always been an optimist. No matter how bad things get, I believe they can get better with the right goals and the right effort toward them. I do not generally find myself resigned to fate, though I do often find myself  having to accept a bitter truth before I can get to work on improving things. Accepting what I cannot control prevents me from getting wrapped up in an argument with the Universe, which generally wins. So why am I so stinking gloomy lately?

For the first time in my life, I honestly believe that this country is going to lose to the politicians. We always lose to them in some ways, but our system of government up to now has managed to keep them from doing us in completely. I like to think of it as idiots cancelling each other out.

Why is today different?

The cumulative effect of a growing government means that everything our leaders do impacts us more. Each year, whether donkeys or elephants dominate the Washington zoo, government grows. The supreme arrogance of both parties leads them to think that they can pull this lever and twist that dial to make everything work. Add to that the fact that “working” for them usually means goodies for their friends and financial supporters.

The Founders figured that by creating a balance of powers, no one part of the government could get so powerful as to wreak havoc. That worked for some time, until we as a people lost our enthusiasm for liberty. We allowed both parties, which should have been locked in conflict, to trick us into thinking their battles were real. They were a sham, designed to lull us into complacency as they edged into our lives little by little, then lot by lot.

Living as free individuals requires constant vigilance, as John Philpot Curran reminded us in 1790. We have not only failed to be vigilant; we have invited the wolves in to dine. A country so powerful as to repeal slavery within and repel tyrants without has been brought low by its own elected officials, all for the price of a false economic security.

The remedy is not in the halls of Congress but in the hearts of men and women. A people whose overriding goal is to retreat from life and hide behind everyone else do not deserve freedom. A citizenry that loathes the capable and loves the laggard deserves to reap the resulting harvest. We are not victims so much of our leaders as we are victims of our own crumbling character.

Yes, I am an optimist, though my faith in a better future is taking a beating right now. Character is malleable, and I hope that somewhere deep down in our souls we still have the seed of nobility. A noble people refuse to allow a government to tread upon their province at will. Defiance is their code and honor their flag. They find resolve even among the rubble.

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with wornout tools

–from “If” by Rudyard Kipling

Let us remember that after our leaders bring everything down around our ankles, we have the choice to rebuild it. Prepare yourself in endurance and character. It will demand more of you than has ever been asked. I’ll be there too, along with the other optimists.


About Terry Noel

I am an Associate Professor of Management and Quantitative Methods at Illinois State University. My specialty is entrepreneurship.
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