Do We Still Believe in the Future?

In 1953 Bernard Baruch, a financier and advisor to Presidents’ Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Harry S. Truman made remarks on CBS Radio entitled “Why I Still Believe in the Future.”  His words have been repeated and reprinted many times since.  As we depart the year 2015 and look back at the very visible and audible anger and frustration of both those that vote and those that don’t in our country and around the smaller and flatter world in which we live, I couldn’t help but recall those words which I first heard about and read five years ago.  When I did, I found myself reflecting on the optimism which those words evoked during a time that like now the frustration, anger and cynicism of the people of our country, indeed the world, dominated the media landscape.

The difference which I notice between the decade leading up to this past year, 2015, and the decade which proceeded the year 1953 which I have only read about is one of degree not kind.  In 2015 it seems to me that there are more politicians, which I define as anyone who seeks political office particularly the highest office in the land whether they call themselves an “outsider” or not, seeking to convert the peoples’ frustration, anger and cynicism to their own use, i.e. the fulfilling of their partisan, ideological, or even personal psychological “talk therapy” needs and ambitions.  These manipulations may be designed to eliminate or at least ameliorate the candidate’s personal insecurities and resentments or an arguably more lofty purpose, but whatever they are, they are destructive.

The causes of the peoples’ anger, frustration, and cynicism have been intensifying the last decade and have been documented by “exit polling” in what have been described by a seemingly captivated “mainstream media” as the “change elections” of 2006, 2008 and 2010.  Those causes are a combination of economic, political, psychological and sociological conditions.  They are, therefore, not likely to be remedied by a single election and certainly not an election that results in more “broken promises” by the candidates now presumably elected officials, who out of ignorance of our governmental structure and operations, demagoguery or both, campaigned promising things that he or she couldn’t politically or even constitutionally accomplish even if his or her life depended on it.

As New York Times syndicated columnist and author most recently of a book called “Character,” David Brooks, points out “the heart of any moral system is the connection between action and consequences.  Today’s public anger on both the right and the left arises from the belief that this connection has been severed in one realm after another – public and private.”  Terrorists (Isis, Isil, Al Queda, etc.) kill innocent women and children, but we, the “good guys” don’t “take them out.”  The greed of Wall Street financiers sends the world into recession and keeps upping their unfair share of our riches and politicians who we elect “don’t do anything about it.”  IRS targets average citizens illegally and NSA spies on us unnecessarily, but they do so with “impunity.”  These are some of the complaints of a populace who are at best dissatisfied and at worst restless and anxiety-ridden about the future.

This does not, however, mean that this current reality is immutable.  While in 2015 we seem to have more than our fair share of partisans, ideologues, demagogues and charlatans on both the left and right playing on our worst instincts, none of whom need or deserve any further acknowledgement or recognition from me, prior eras had their own versions of these poster children – the Joe McCarthys, George Wallaces, the John Birch Society, the Ku Klux Klan, etc.  Indeed is the anxiety of the body politic today, while different, any worse than what Bernard Baruch described in 1953 as “the thunder of war, the stench of concentration camps, the mushroom cloud of the atomic bomb, and the threat of a terrible holocaust clouding all of our tomorrows?”  As Baruch noted, “these are not conducive to optimism.”

Despite this metaphorical dark cloud cover, Baruch proclaimed in 1953 and thereafter “my faith in the future though somewhat shaken is not destroyed.  He then explained, “I sometimes doubt that man will achieve his “mortal potentialities,” but I never doubt that he can.

Baruch based his optimism on his faith “in the power of the human mind to cope with the problems of life” and his conclusion that “to nothing so much as the abandonment of reason does humanity owe its sorrows” and “whatever failures I have known, whatever errors I have committed, whatever follies I have witnessed in private and public life have been the consequence of action without thought.”

We have therefore been forewarned of the perils of “action without thought.” We should heed that warning which is based on history and experience.  We should also be wary of thoughts, even in a campaign context which are unaccompanied and devoid of analysis.  We live in a complex world which is increasingly interconnected.  Addressing that complexity is not accomplished by being “politically correct” but complexity is also not effectively dealt with by oversimplification of issues for partisan, ideological or religious purposes whether politically correct or not.

Bernard Baruch would say we can in fact solve our problems by placing our trust in the unfettered intellect, reason, wisdom and compassion of smart individuals, not in crowds.  The collective blogosphere, talk radio, and cable TV, Tea Parties and interest groups whether claiming omniscience, heavenly blessing or other supernatural powers or origins do not address any reality except their own.  That said, let’s try analytics in 2016.  We might like it!