Driving around America for the last six years trying to cover as much of it as I could, going from one political hotspot to the next, from the BP oil spill to Detroit, which is actively depopulating its outer neighborhoods, one thing has been clear. Politics is entertainment; politicians and the press create a constant hysteria of the now, feeding a grand worldwide Greek drama, with real people, if not our own fortunes, in the balance. Like any good soap opera, there are no plot resolutions, nothing is ever truly solved. What’s left is a series of semi-satisfying plot points that are quickly forgotten in the buildup to the next cliffhanger and a never-ending series of monetary distractions that have little effect on our day-to-day lives.
Lax regulations on banking policy caused the economy to implode in 2008, creating a downturn second only to the Great Depression. The calamity was days from throwing the world economy into chaos and has since destabilized European governments and caused domestic unemployment to hit highs not seen in thirty years. Yet five years later there is no interest in substantial banking oversight and the most pressing political issues are federal deficit policy and the pay of public sector unions. This is a disconnect that makes it hard to believe that those writing the plot care if anyone is paying attention. The only people who seem to recognize these issues as distractions are those writing our history (and then only when everyone involved is out of office and retired). History slowly comes to the truth the way beach erosion or glaciers melting bring about a slow-moving change that is constant yet nearly imperceptible.
This listless pace leaves us helpless to affect much of anything that isn’t on a very personal scale. Presidential memoirs are littered with the realization that even the most powerful person in the world has little ability to overcome the slow-moving pace of large political issues. What can we do but work as best we can to understand the events as they happen and hope that the choices we make in our lives will be the right ones? Hopefully, in some marginal way, this will change things for the better.
When things do inevitably change, they tend to sneak up on us as pleasant little surprises where all of a sudden we have an African-American president, gay marriage and a national healthcare program. By the time these once-monumental shifts take place, they seem self-evident. Why shouldn’t African Americans and homosexuals have equal rights? And why shouldn’t we pool all our resources to purchase healthcare? It is only with a good deal of reflection that it becomes clear how slow-moving history is and how long it takes for beliefs to change and how much better our lives have become because of it.