“Optimism, n. The doctrine, or belief, that everything is beautiful, including what is ugly, everything is good, especially the bad, and everything right that is wrong.”
– Ambrose Bierce (1843-circa 1914), “The Devil’s Dictionary.”
“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.”
– Words from Helen Keller (1880-1968), author and lecturer who was born both blind and deaf.
Optimism and hope are for fools, some think, even as we know that without them, too little is tried and too little improves. So it is that we equate the coming of a new year with the coming of hope, a chance to walk away from the bad of the past and forward to something better. And so it is that politicians associate hope with themselves and despair with their opponents.
Right now, we have a confluence of a coming new year and a coming administration in Washington, and we have the first lady, Michelle Obama, talking about the election of Donald Trump as president and the disappearance of hope.
“We feel the difference now,” she said in an interview with Oprah Winfrey on CBS. “We are feeling what not to have hope feels like.”
Her views are applauded by a massive audience even as Trump responded that she could not be talking about the future because, “I’m telling you, we have tremendous hope and we have tremendous promise and tremendous potential.”
Excuse me, says President Barack Obama, but this guy would not be about to take residence in the White House if third terms were permitted. What he would have done differently from Hillary Clinton as a candidate, Obama said, was to reiterate the “hope and change” message he had repeated so many times when running and winning in 2008.
The Obama hope then was to change the state of affairs under President George W. Bush. Would he, in 2016, have been running to change the state of affairs under his own Democratic administration? Some will tell you there is indeed plenty of the ugly, bad and wrong to be found there.
Violent crime, for instance, has been going up significantly in America’s largest cities as Obama has called police officers racists and made their duties more difficult to fulfill. Racial tensions are the highest they have been in years.
The Obamacare program and Medicaid changes have extended insurance coverage to millions, but that has not stopped a rare increase in the U.S. death rate, the first in 10 years. A New York Times story says causes may include Alzheimer’s disease, a massive drug epidemic and suicide, hardly an indicator of hope.
Obama’s education program, known as Race to the Top, has been slouching toward the bottom, at least if you believe some of the national test scores that have shown up along with complaints of ideologically awry, unwarranted, impractical and confusing interventions with state and local education authorities.
Take a look at foreign affairs and you will note early, muted responses to Russian aggressions that then took off like a rocket until now we have a last-minute response that is not muted. In the Middle East, you will note that his policies have done nothing to prevent a more militaristic, terroristic Iran or to prevent hundreds of thousands of Syrian deaths, some 4.8 million refugees and more than 13 million people in desperate need. In Asia you will note China illegally taking over land and resources of allies in the South China Sea.
Trump, less than a mount of knowledge or a master of temperament, has some awful ideas — on spending and trade, for instance.
But he has nevertheless inspired hope, as attested by stocks shooting upward and consumer confidence reaching a 13-year high since his election. Believe it or not, he has some sound ideas on fighting crime, improving education and stopping drug smuggling on our southern border.
Does that mean everything is going to be beautiful, good and right? No, but it will still help for all of us to work and hope for a happy new year.
Jay Ambrose is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service.