Expectation and disappointment.
Without expectation, there is no risk, no ambition, no innovation. But no risk always succeeds; disappointment comes to almost everyone.
The national mood in America today is dominated by disappointment.
The epidemic of opioid and alcohol abuse, and the rise in mob violence and political and social intolerance all seem rooted in an overwhelming sense of disappointment: disappointment in self, disappointment in relationships, disappointment in daily life, and national life, and in life as it seems to be lived around the world.
From every angle, it feels like I, we, the country, and the world could have done better.
Usually, disappointment is an internalized emotion, a quiet sadness, which often seeks relief in alcohol and drugs. But people have their limits, and when they are breached by disappointment too long-lasting, too seemingly avoidable, too “up close and personal,” those disappointments can explode in words or actions we later regret.
Like the 2016 elections.
Voters’ long-simmering (and legitimate) disappointment in the status quo politics of the previous 40 years blew up into an unrestrained rejection and indiscriminate Presidential selection. Now, many voters wish they could “take it back.”
But in life, as in electoral politics, there is no going back. What’s done is done, and can only be remedied by future conduct. Kindness, forgiveness, patience, discipline — mastering these remedies is what living with disappointment and moving forward are all about.
So we must live with our national humiliation – the Presidency of Donald Trump – and make amends by understanding our mistakes and preparing for something better.
I admit I cannot apply my “kindness, etc.” program to the President and his chief enablers and abettors. I leave them to the inexorable processes of the law and its enforcer Robert Mueller.
But there are still Trump’s adherents. He won their votes by confirming their resentments. He played his public by channeling their disappointments into a blame game aimed at immigrants and minorities and encouraging their worst instincts for violence in word and deed.
Now, they do need talking down, from rage to rational consideration, but not by talking down to them. One way to get people to deal honestly with their disappointments is by signaling they are shared.
For instance, most Trump voters and Sanders voters and even Clinton voters share the belief that the expectations of the greatest generation have not been fulfilled. The post-World War II vision of an America of happy and stable families, sustained through stable employment in a prosperous economy, is going dark.
Democrats and Republicans and Independents can see that the economic fruits of American productivity and investment have not been distributed fairly. Instead, a greedy top 1% of the population has accumulated an ever-growing, ever-more-disproportionate share.
Activists in both the Occupy and Tea Party movements believe the last two generations of American politicians have mouthed the interests of “the people,” and served the interests of the people who finance their careers.
Living with these disappointments means confronting them honestly and humbly and collaborating across old dividing lines to create a coalition of voters seeking change that will fulfill civic expectations.
The first big American disappointment of my lifetime came in Korea, where a naïve national sense of military invincibility developed in World Wars I and II came crashing down. The Armistice that ended the fighting was a relief, but hardly the victory most Americans expected.
Unfortunately, we ignored the lessons of this disappointment, the dangers of ignorance and underestimation of our adversaries, and of accepting the assurances of political and military leaders. Thus, we repeated many of our Korean War miscalculations and repeated the disappointing results in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
Most Americans now understand this, which is why Barack Obama stayed his hand in Syria. Even the relentlessly in-your-face Donald Trump has also focused his military escalation in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan on surrogate fighters and standoff weapons. People are weary of war.
There are other developing points of right-left or at least right-center/left-center agreement: the growing sympathy for the DACA “dreamers” and the rising public openness to the idea of universal, tax-supported health care are just two areas of potential convergence.
Both these trending opinions reflect even more significant public perceptions, that at least some immigrants are valuable human beings, and that sometimes paying our taxes buys us things we need.
Whatever expectations Donald Trump brought with him to the White House for power, popularity, and accomplishment have been disappointed. The President’s rage explodes in the daily fusillade of intemperate (and to most people, regrettable) outbursts. For me, this produces a mixture of fear and cheap satisfaction.
But politics that merely mirror his anger will only deepen our divisions and disappointments.
Living with disappointment and moving on are parts of millions of personal lives. The same kind of emotional maturity will be needed to restore our national political life.
Listen to my podcasts at davemarash.com