"Optimism is cowardice," said Oswald Spengler. Of course, that's not exactly the kind of grim Mitteleuropean philosophy that appeals to Americans, especially American conservatives. And Barack Obama appears to have targeted Donald Trump directly in tonight's State of the Union speech.
“America has been through big changes before – wars and depression, the influx of immigrants, workers fighting for a fair deal, and movements to expand civil rights,” Obama will say. “Each time, there have been those who told us to fear the future; who claimed we could slam the brakes on change, promising to restore past glory if we just got some group or idea that was threatening America under control.”The excerpt continues: And each time, we overcame those fears. We did not, in the words of Lincoln, adhere to the ‘dogmas of the quiet past.’ Instead we thought anew, and acted anew.”[State of the Union: Obama to call for rejection of partisan distrust for the sake of the future of the nation, by Juliet Eilperin and David Fahrentold, Washington Post, January 12, 2015]
There are several problems with this. The most obvious is that the winners write history. By definition, those who benefit from social change are going to retroactively explain it was a good thing. However, looking back at the social changes from the perspective of 2016, the reactionaries of the past seem to have been vindicated. The so-called civil rights movement really did lead to a permanent system of racial preferences, the loss of freedom of association, and the utter devastation of American cities, just as critics predicted.
And obviously the most spectacular example of the doomsayers being utterly vindicated are immigration patriots. Consider
Ted Kennedy's famous quote about the 1965 Immigration Act.
"First, our cities will not be flooded with a million immigrants annually. Under the proposed bill, the present level of immigration remains substantially the same ... Secondly, the ethnic mix of this country will not be upset ... Contrary to the charges in some quarters, [the bill] will not inundate America with immigrants from any one country or area, or the most populated and deprived nations of Africa and Asia ... In the final analysis, the ethnic pattern of immigration under the proposed measure is not expected to change as sharply as the critics seem to think."
Precisely the opposite occurred. And precisely the opposite was intended
So it is with Obama. The point of his speech is to encourage Americans to let down their guard. Then, when what conservatives predict will happen actually does
happen, we will be told it is too late to do anything about it.
Nikki Haley is giving the Republican response. And what is she doing. She's squaring her shoulders, staring straight into the camera, and taking aim at... Donald Trump.
“Immigrants have been coming to our shores for generations to live the dream that is America,” Haley will say. Her parents immigrated from India. “During anxious times, it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices. We must resist that temptation. No one who is willing to work hard, abide by our laws, and love our traditions should ever feel unwelcome in this country.”
What a pathetic spectacle. At a time when a strong opposition is needed, the Republican Party leadership seems to have entirely surrendered to President Obama. Among Republicans, Trump stands all but alone.
We don't need mindless optimism. That's precisely how Germany got itself into its present catastrophe.
We need realism. And resistance.