President Barack Obama’s campaign slogan was “Hope and Change.” It is always good to have hope, and change can be for the good, but without context, the phrase is meaningless. In the context of his presidency, it meant something that Americans have subsequently rejected with the election of Donald Trump. The change he touted was simply an acceleration of the progressive agenda, the increasingly leftist, Marxist, post-modernist, class-struggle view that rejects the fundamental tenets of American culture and history. Instead of unity, it encourages envy, anger, and division. Instead of promoting individual rights and responsibilities, it promotes the government as savior and solver of all problems and pits group against group for political favors.
It is certainly true that American history is littered with political, cultural, and moral disasters. There are still poor people, there are wars, there is hatred, but the difference between prosperous countries, such as America, and those whose people constantly struggle for survival is often the fixed-pie mentality, the idea that there is only so much stuff, and that some people don’t have enough only because others have too much. The inevitable result is envy. Instead of saying, “Those people are prosperous, someday I will be like them and become prosperous,” the feeling, often unstated, is, “Those people are prosperous. Someday I’m going to cut them down to size so they lose their stuff and have to suffer like me.” Societies mired in the second attitude are those that never develop or even regress from a higher level. Personal accumulation of assets and wealth is looked down upon, so only politicians and their cronies get wealthy.
America, as with all countries around the world, is made of human beings, with all of their weaknesses, failings, and evils. America’s story is similar in many respects to most other nations. There have been ups and downs, wars, economic hardships, social strife, and so on. The bedrock for American culture, however, is different from most. It is the idea that individuals have rights that are not given to them by their government and, therefore, cannot legitimately be taken away arbitrarily. However badly those rights might have been abused in particular circumstances, they still exist, they are still the central theme. People have rights against the government, and the founding documents specifically limit its power and scope.
That idea has been a bulwark against political abuses. Yes, those abuses have happened and are still happening, but the underlying principle still animates the American spirit, as we see with the reaction to uncovering the fraud, complicity, and corruption of the FBI leadership and numerous politicians. I don’t know that the perpetrators who deserve jail time will actually see the inside of a cell, but I am encouraged by a renewed interest in limiting the power of politicians and the state.
The world is changing rapidly, and we must embrace that change, but that doesn’t mean we throw the baby out with the bathwater. Our understanding of why gravity works is evolving, but even if we reject or ignore gravity, it does not ignore us. In the same way, though technologies and prevailing conditions may change, the moral and economic principles that guide societies to better futures do not change. For example, prices held below market prices through politics always will result in shortages in the respective markets.
On the other hand, with free men and women who are held responsible for their actions, and with limitations on political interference in the lives and economic outcomes of individuals, there is hope for an even better future. The change we need is to embrace the individual again and reject all forms of collectivism that drown the individual in group identity politics.