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The “Uneven Symphony” of American History

img 3374Since Donald Trump–the closest thing to an authoritarian leader the country has ever seen–became president, I have increasingly found comfort in the writings of historians and activists. When the current world of insane tweets and receding justice becomes overwhelming, I look back at how the United States handled times of disruption and upheaval.

Believe it or not, it helps a lot. It provides context and perspective that is sorely lacking in today’s toxic, clickbait climate. Voting in EVERY presidential and midterm election, organizing and marching, calling your members of Congress, and staying tuned in to current events (from credible news sources) are all vitally important. But if you are looking for meaning and coherence in chaos, I highly recommend the look-back approach.

Read presidential histories. Read about how Americans overcame impossible odds. Read about the work done by generations of activists, work that often seemed to be done in vain.

One of my favorite quotes on the subject is an excerpt from Jon Meacham’s new (and incredible book), The Soul of America. In this specific section of the book (Chapter 4: A New and Good Thing in the World), he uses the juxtaposition of the Progressive Era of the early 20th century to make a profound point:

And yet, and yet–there is always an “and yet” in American history. Taken all in all, Woodrow Wilson and his age are revealing examples of the battles between hope and fear. The era of the suffrage triumph, for instance, was also the age of segregation, of the suppression of free speech in wartime, of the Red Scare of 1919-20, and of the birth of a new Ku Klux Klan. The story of America is thus one of slow, often unsteady steps forward. If we expect the trumpets of a given era to sound unwavering notes, we will be disappointed, for the past tells us that politics is an uneven symphony.

Yes, Anthony Kennedy’s retirement in the age of Trump is a tragedy. It represents a blow to political progress that may take decades to overcome. I’m not naive to that fact. This is a setback of epic proportions that will impact millions of lives.

But it is definitely not the end of the country. All hope is not lost. Our lives have not ended. Keep moving forward. Stop posting defeatist “jokes” to social media for clicks. We owe it to the country, the future, those who blazed the trails before, and ourselves.

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