The year 2008 ended in North Dakota with record-breaking snowfall for December, and the promise of more to come.
Our splendid city and county public works employees are out there in the bitter cold doing a tremendous job getting roads cleared, cars unstuck, and snow piled up for the spring thaw. Spring will bring it’s own problems as all this white stuff melts and runs into the river.
I’m sure our people will cope with that too, but nature is yet again reminding us of how little of what’s in store for us we can actually control, or even foresee.
January 20, 2009 begins a new administration, welcomed with ecstatic, almost religious joy by hopeful multitudes expecting the promised “change”.
So I’ll risk a prediction, somebody is going to be disappointed.
Much of that “change” isn’t going to happen, and much of what does won’t please anyone. Not because our president won’t try, not because he didn’t mean it, and not even because he won’t have the necessary support.
It isn’t going to happen because it is not within our power to make it happen. Or because the price of making it happen is unacceptable.
What? With all the might and wealth of the United States, we can’t accomplish anything we set our minds to?
While living abroad as a teacher for many years, I often struggled to define for myself, and my students, what was different about America and Americans. To define the essence of the American national character.
What I eventually came up with was, Americans think anything can be fixed.
Well can’t it?
In a word, no. Some problems have no solution and must be lived with until they fix themselves, or perhaps forever.
Yet we believe, on a level so deep that we seldom think to question it, that all problems have solutions and all situations can be improved.
Our new president ran as an anti-war candidate. His supporters are looking forward to a new era of peace.
Nobody but a Nietzchean lunatic is “for” war. What too many forget is, it takes the whole-hearted cooperation of two or more parties to make peace. Wars can be started by just one.
Greens are expecting the new administration to move us a significant degree towards carbon-neutral renewable energy by the end of his first term, or second at the latest.
Not going to happen, not even by a double-digit percentage, unless that carbon-neutral renewable is nuclear. And that’ll take ten years to get on-line anyway.
Nor is there going to be significant progress towards getting anybody in compliance with the pie-in-the-sky Kyoto accords for carbon emissions.
China? An ancient and proud culture has had their nose rubbed in the fact that the outer barbarians are richer and more powerful than they are. “Ruthless” seems wholly inadequate to describe their intention of catching up with and surpassing us.
Russia? Explain to me again how this hypothetical global warming would be a bad thing for a huge nation with seven months of winter?
The EU? Now that we’ve achieved 7 percent unemployment, we’re almost at the level the Europeans think of as normal for good times. Their economies can’t take the sacrifices they urge on everyone else, and they can’t cut military spending to compensate, because they essentially don’t have any.
As for our own economy, the present mess is the culmination of years of really bad decisions, all made for the most high-minded and altruistic reasons. Which itself ought to tell us something about our power to create heaven on earth.
Those bad decisions, or “investments,” can’t be liquidated without a fair amount of pain. And they can’t be fixed by the government moving cash around, anymore than a string can be lengthened by cutting a piece off one end and tying it to the other.
As the new administration takes office, let us pray that President Obama, his cabinet, staff, and supporters, have the humility to realize that while our capacity to improve the world is limited, our ability to screw things up is not.
As the burden of office descends upon him, there are signs that realization is dawning on him. Rumor has it that Obama is smoking more these days. Which is yet another sign of the difficulty of realizing one’s good intentions.