As the curtain falls on "a low, dishonest decade," in the words of W.H. Auden, things are looking up.
Just maybe we've entered the spirit of a new millennium so many yearned for prior to 2001, the year progressives like me wrung our hands as the wheels of civilization began rolling backward into an era of needless war, greed and environmental decline.
On good days, it seems those days are ending. The train of progress is building up steam again. There's a hopeful litany to point to.
Start with the cultural. Avatar, the flashiest and most popular new film in years proffers a message born of a Whole Earth mentality. James Cameron is a product of the first generation to see photographic images of the Whole Earth while we were still dewy-eyed and impressionable. He's of the generation that venerated multiple points of view, empathy, raised-consciousness, the global perspective, and it shows in this work.
Cameron's is a green world view, an anti-colonialist vision, a voice for tolerance and understanding, intelligence and imagination. Such movies as this serve as indicators and teachers of a new generation who mostly want nothing to do with torture, discrimination, wars for oil, global warming, economic exploitation, mindless violence and other vestiges of the dysfunctional 20th century.
Then there's the political. At last we have another president of intelligence and good intentions, bolstered by a majority in Congress. Yes, there's plenty of reasons for disappointment among progressives, but Obama got much more right in Year One than any president in a long time. Name one president since Roosevelt who's been dealt a worse hand. Some would argue Obama should've rolled the dice, found a way to throw Bush-Cheney in the brig for war crimes, brought down Wall Street and the insurance companies, distributed money to the masses and immediately withdrawn from Iraq and Afghanistan. There's a word for those who advocate such unilateral acts. They're called radicals.
Likely as not, such actions would've ended in a new Great Depression and an old-fashioned bloodbath a forces from the right and left clashed. You and I might well be standing in bread lines. Thanks anyway.
Radicals rail for revolution. Progressives embrace progress. It's demonstrable that Obama has made some. Grant him an empathy implicit in acknowledging that he's navigating perilous waters. One wrong move and catastrophe pertains on any number of fronts. He's being cautious in the political capital he spends, because there are not shortages of problems on which he might fritter it away. Yes, he's flawed, but I say give him another year before judging too harshly, bearing in mind the old notion that The Perfect is often the enemy of The Good. Thirty-five million more Americans might have healthcare under Obama than under Bush. That's progress, and it's something to build on. There'll be other initiatives to expand and fine-tune healthcare, to put limits on untenable charges that show up on our hospital bills.
On the environmental front, things appear to move slowly, but really we're on the front end of a Green Revolution. Again, there's plenty of room for improvement, but progress has been made. It took Bush years to even acknowledge the human impact on global climate. Over and over he downplayed what scientists from NASA and many others revealed about our world. Obama has made energy and climate central to his administration. Yes, Cap and Trade is flawed. Yes, a carbon tax is needed. Yes, we could do more to open and expand the grid to embrace new technologies, the massive wind resources of the northeast, the amazing solar capacity of the southwest, and advances in bio-fuels technologies that could render them independent of corn and other food-sources linked to petroleum-based fertilizers.
Still, we should acknowledge that scientists are freer to speak their minds, action is being taken, energy companies are being forced to install scrubbers, mountaintop removal has been curtailed if not halted, and other nations are being encouraged to get on board the Green express. Many are actually leading us in green technologies. This movement will only move forward, a far cry from just one year ago, when Drill Baby Drill was the war cry of the right.
The right notwithstanding, it's a more pluralistic society. Not only do we have a man of color as president, we have an attorney-general of color, yet another woman at State, a female Hispanic on the Supreme Court, and progress for gays in states like Iowa. It's a different world from the one in which I grew up hearing racist jokes.
Despite such gains, the rosy scenario painted above disguises darker tones.