Giving Thanks for Productive Insurgents, U.S. Resilience: View

Scanning the public arena, some might be hard-pressed to find cause for thanks. Unemployment remains stubbornly high, inflicting pain on millions of Americans and undermining the futures of millions more. The economy at large is skittish, bracing for the sound of other shoes dropping in Europe. The national debt just surpassed $15 trillion.

What’s more, the U.S. is sharply divided along ideological lines, with the opposing sides sorting themselves with dispiriting consistency by race, age and social class. Congress appears incapable of legislating, while the presidential primary has established a whole new political science category -- the low-information candidate.

Market confidence is shaken, political faith is damaged and more difficulties lie ahead. Yet it’s not all bad. Compare our struggles with where we were three years ago: The U.S. economy was diving head-first into depression, with fourth-quarter GDP plunging at an annualized rate of 8.9 percent. Growth now may be sluggish, but catastrophe was averted, as we hope it will be in Europe.

The failure of a congressional supercommittee to reach agreement on debt reduction is seen by some as proof that the political system is dead. We prefer to believe it’s just playing possum. Amid the turmoil are signs of resilience. Just two years ago, Tea Party insurgents were shouting down Democratic members of Congress at town hall meetings while a few brandished firearms in public displays of intimidation. By last November, they had successfully channeled that energy into electoral politics, following precisely the course for popular passions envisioned by the Founders.

Gravitational Hold

We hope the adherents of Occupy Wall Street make a similarly productive turn, charting a more substantive route toward influencing public policy. The fact that members of both groups cite George Washington as an inspiration shows that the political center still exerts a gravitational hold.

There are other signs, too, that America is edging back from the extremes. Three weeks ago, on a quiet election day, voters in Ohio, Mississippi and Arizona expressed sensible and moderate inclinations regarding unions, abortion and immigration, respectively.

Americans will have ample opportunity in the year ahead to confront the sticky choices before them -- and to decide what shape they want their country to take. The Supreme Court will hear arguments on the constitutionality of the Democrats’ health-care reform; its decision -- whatever it is -- will thrust the issue to the center of the 2012 campaign. Also in the middle of the debate: the Bush tax cuts, which would cost $3.7 trillion over ten years and are up for renewal at the end of next year.

There is no question that the system has been bruised, and the complexities of globalization, debt, unemployment, inequality and other factors will continue to resist easy answers. But as Americans gather today, three years into a global financial crisis, 10 years into the age of terror, we are far from broken. Though frustrated by our institutions, we still view them as the mediating agencies of political conflict and as the rightful path to power. We are fighting among ourselves, but generally over the right things, often enough in the right ways and, with rare exceptions, peacefully. For this, we can be thankful.


To contact the senior editor responsible for Bloomberg View’s editorials: David Shipley at davidshipley@bloomberg.net.