In just over three months I will turn 76. That is a fairly long time for a human life on this small, blue planet. I have been blessed by so many things—a strong marriage to a strong woman, a loving family and inspiring children, four extraordinary grandchildren, great friends, pretty good health, a fulfilling career, and never having been in a situation where I have had to worry about having enough money to get by. I have been affirmed and supported by others. In short, though I have had my ups and downs like all us humans and have made my share of mistakes, I am deeply grateful and have nothing on a personal level worthy of even a whimper.
Yet I am worried.
I am worried because I feel in my bones that we as a nation and as a planet are entering a perilous time. Sure, we have been through tough times before— a civil war, two world wars, the threat of nuclear annihilation during the Cold War. Certainly we have a sordid history in the U.S. with slavery, Jim Crow, racial discrimination, and class and social inequities. Human suffering is as much a part of the human experience as is our living and breathing. Life has never been easy or fair.
But somehow the times we are in today seem different.
So here is what frightens me as we end 2017.
- We have a President totally unfit to lead us through the challenging times facing us. Much has been written about him, and many know the picture—borderline illiterate, questionable intelligence, incessant TV watcher addicted to right wing talk shows, narcissist, dictator tendencies, unstable, and possibly mentally ill. His main obsession appears to be to erase everything that could be considered an Obama legacy. I believe that he is far more dangerous than we can even contemplate.
- We are closer to a nuclear war right now than at any time since the Cuban Missile Crisis, and we do not have John Kennedy at the helm. We are told that North Korea probably has around 50 nuclear weapons, and we learned this week that Kim Jong-un is well along in developing chemical and biological weapons. He falls into the category of a Stalin, Hitler or Mao; and if he is pushed against a wall, many experts believe he will use the weapons he has. If he thinks he is going to be destroyed, he will take a lot of others down with him. He has nothing to lose. And here we are talking millions of “others.”
There was a very interesting piece in Sunday’s Washington Post about how a nuclear war could start by accident such as a South Korean commercial airplane accidently drifting into North Korean airspace and mistaken for a U.S. bomber. It would not be the first time that a major war started by accident or false information. Think World War I and Iraq War 2.
- The climate issue is a ticking, time bomb. The 2017 massive hurricanes and the California wild fires are just a taste of what is to come, we are told by experts. Just wait until we get a three foot rise in sea levels. There is some good news on this front as the world is waking up to this threat and beginning to take positive action. But not the U.S. Donald Trump and many of his advisors are climate change deniers and are rolling back the climate initiatives put in place under Obama.
- Unrest continues throughout the planet. As I write this, there are uprisings in Palestine and a terrorist bombing in New York City. War continues in the Middle East. We have made progress fighting ISIS, but trouble still simmers.
- Our country is more divided than at any time since the beginning of the Civil War. Virtually no major legislation passes on a bipartisan basis, and the two political parties agree on very little. You hear “man on the street” interviews bemoaning that both parties are equally to blame. Being a loyal Democrat and committed progressive, I disagree. But some would say that I am just another example of the problem.
- Huge domestic issues face the U.S. We have decaying infrastructure. Public schools and public education are struggling. For many housing is unaffordable, and we are just about to see 13 million people lose health insurance. When the tax bill becomes law, we are likely to see the income disparities increase with the rich getting richer and the poor poorer. Racial inequities continue, and hardly a week goes by when you don’t read about a white cop shooting an unarmed black man—often a teenager. Confidence in public institutions is at an all time low, and major institutions like mainline Protestant churches are on the decline.
This is why I am fearful. (And you could probably add a number of other fearful things to the list.) I am not so fearful for myself as for my children and my grandchildren. Our generation is leaving them with a ton of challenges.
But I do not totally despair and to a certain extent I am hopeful. Younger people seem to get it and are more likely to address these issues better than my generation has done. And I keep reminding myself, we actually have made extraordinary progress on some issues—especially on issues related to sexuality. Embry and I attended a gay wedding last week and it seemed as routine and natural and joyful as any conventional wedding ever was. This would surely not have been the case a decade ago. The “Silence Breakers” and “#metoo” movement is a long overdue happening and could be a sea change in the U.S. and even world culture. Despite resistance from the Trump Administration and die-hards, U.S. culture is becoming more diverse and inclusive. And we did elect an African American President not too long ago, and he turned out to be one of our best presidents ever. Good people are on the front lines working on improving education, health care, affordable housing and are helping people in so many ways.
On the whole we are a generous nation. Also our country is remarkably resilient. We continue to lead the world in technology and innovation.
The pendulum swings back and forth. We are in a dark time now. We will come out of it. I certainly hope and pray that that will be the case. But it won’t happen in a vacuum. Each of us has a responsibility to do what we can in our own way to make the world a safer and better place. The stakes have never been higher.
So this is my take on where we stand as we enter the season of peace and hope when we Christians celebrate the birth of Christ.
The future is very scary, but this is also a time for hope and for action. I thank God for all my blessings and pray for us humans and for our small at-risk planet.
6 thoughts on “Taking Stock In The Season of Hope and Peace”
Joe, again, very well said. Merry Christmas and best wishes for a healthy, happy New Year!
A little over a half century ago, a very good friend at college told me that our existence consists of a series of deaths and resurrections. His name was Joe Howell. Hopefully the current decline that he now so ably defines will be followed by a rising up — something that we all hope and pray for and should help bring it to be.
I’m heartened by the fact that you are reminding us of what’s important!
Action might be in the form of finding a person who did not vote in the last election and inviting him/her to the polls…And, ask that person to do the same. Doesn’t matter which way they vote.
Thanks for your great insight as always. I share your concerns about our President and wonder if he will actually complete his term. Best wishes to you all for a Very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
I want to put this up on my wall (or my refrigerator) and look at it every day.
one of your best, Joe! you have an uncanny way of saying what’s on my mind, better than I can say it myself.