2019 will be a mess for America, thank God

As we stare into the coming abyss of 2019, we should try to be calm. A wildly fluctuating stock market, global trade wars, economic collapse, threats of nuclear war, brewing terrorism, continuing investigations of the Trump campaign, calls for impeachment, political stalemate between Republicans and Democrats, increased hostility and shrill accusations positioning candidates for the 2020 election, dysfunctional government, the loss of American prestige in the world, catastrophe everywhere.

What thin-skinned little daisies we’ve all become.

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When I last checked, unemployment and the stock market were dramatically better than they were two years ago. The war on terror, while certainly a serious concern, has taken a relatively small toll compared to the major wars of the past century. We’ve not entered a major new shooting war in over a decade. Civil rights, women’s rights, and LGBTQ rights have made astounding progress in the past 50 years and no one seriously expects that trend to change.

Treatment of the poor, disadvantaged and the elderly also has improved dramatically in 50 years. No other country in the world has seen that level of rapid progress — it is a record that will not be matched soon. Energy dependence no longer is a national security concern. Air quality is vastly better than the smog that literally burned our lungs in the 1950s and ’60s, a time when polluted rivers actually caught on fire.

We have an astoundingly free press and new social media that lavishly launch withering criticism of a president they absurdly call a dictator and a Nazi. Major Universities and centers of research and learning are still the liberal, progressive restrainers of open debate and free speech that they always have been, and yet that has done little to change the political balance in the country.

We’re told that the United States has turned into two or more camps of political zombies, fully brainwashed and ranting at each other, with talking points spoon-fed to them by their favorite cable news or social media security blankets. Of course, in earlier ages, the same zombie phenomena were created by similarly large groups, brainwashed and ranting with the same intensity, their contemporary tenets of nationalism, gospels of religion, views of social order, or whatever their leaders and the University/Fox News/MSNBC structures of their time were teaching them.

Thanksgiving dinner political conversations were no more pleasant 50 years ago, and today’s arguments benefit, on average, from an improved level of detail and (partial) fact — talking points have vastly improved in data, if not reason or thoughtfulness. Having just re-read Allen Drury’s “Advise and Consent,” the Kavanaugh hearings were almost a complete reprise of the dirty politics, media outcry and public debate of a story 60 years old.

It is said that human “progress” reflects a Darwinian struggle between culture and civilization. Humans like the comfort of cultural norms, but also are driven to challenge and change, hopefully to create a better “civilization.” Peace is not the natural state of people, and certainly not Americans. In that vein, we should embrace political conflict and “dysfunctional” government, celebrate challenging leaders, and enjoy disastrous dinner parties. Those are the true signs of a vibrant people and progress.

That kind of struggle is the foundation upon which America was built. We’ll see a lot of that in 2019, and we should be especially thankful for it.

Grady Means is a writer and retired corporate strategy consultant. He was special assistant to Vice President Nelson Rockefeller for domestic policy in the Ford White House, and was an economist and policy analyst for Secretary Elliot Richardson in the former Department of Health, Education and Welfare from 1971-73.