This is the first week of the new decade, and I, for one, am optimistic.
Not naïve. Not wearing rose-colored glasses. Just optimistic that America will rise to the challenges of a new decade with the same energy, same intelligence, and same drive with which it met the very difficult challenges of the past one.
In fact, in this context, the past ten years have been instructive....
Y2K. Al Gore. George Bush. Enron. Al Qaida. Anthrax. Ipods. Airport Security. Saddam Hussein. Sars. Facebook. Tsunami. Terri Schiavo. Katrina. SUVs. Gas prices. Iraq. Texting. Stem cell research. Guantanamo. SmartPhones. Lehman Brothers. Foreclosures. Barack Obama. Unemployment. Swine Flu. Afghanistan. Marriage equality. Sarah Palin.
By some measures, this was a decade unlike any other — extreme highs, extreme lows, extreme politics, extreme weather, and extreme measures. Over the past 10 years, we have been rocked by a series of fundamental changes to the way in which we live our lives and the way in which we relate to one another.
By many measures, however, we are ending this decade as we started it. Relatively safe. Relatively strong. And extraordinarily blessed.
In fact, as we turn the corner into the second decade of the 21st century, we should step back and realize that we have a great deal for which to be grateful.
Liberty — America's most precious commodity — personal freedom — survived a decade of terror attacks and terror response. The 9/11 terrorists not only sought to kill Americans; they sought to kill America by forcing us to sacrifice the very freedom at the center of our collective being. They failed. American liberty is alive and well, and despite some bumps in the road — such as government wire tapping and suspension of habeas corpus — we have kept the well-earned title of the "freest place on earth".
Democracy — We started the decade with a near constitutional crisis — one precipitated by a questionable presidential election in which the winner of the popular vote actually lost the election. Yet, we ended the decade with a presidential election of near record turnout — the largest number of voters and one of the largest percentages of eligible voters. And for the first time in its storied history, the United State of America — a country that had long struggled with civil rights issues — elected an African-American President.
Community — We spent much of this decade a divided country. Politically, the 2000 election tore us apart and the war in Iraq kept us apart. Economically, Wall Street's greed has had a devastating effect on Main Street, hurting the very people and small businesses that have made its profits possible. And socially, issues ranging from social security to healthcare have pitted generation against generation as detractors have sought to frame the discussion in zero-sum terms.
Yet, through it all, the American spirit of community has not only survived — it has thrived. You could see it in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. You could feel it in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. And you can experience it — right now — as neighbors help neighbors pay bills, look for work, and care for their families.
After all, this is America, where you have the right to be right and — more importantly — the right to be wrong. You have the right to get your news from Fox News, MSNBC, and the Drudge Report, and you have the right to start your own blog or internet news site. Right wing ... left wing ... or somewhere in the middle, we are a nation of ideas and ideals - one that embraces practically all viewpoints, all challenges, all people.
Granted, these are not the best of times. Too many people are feeling too much pain.
But we must not lose hope, and we must not lose sight of our capacity — individually and collectively — to weather any storm and overcome any obstacle. After all, we are Americans, and our resiliency — our ability to stay free, stay strong, and stay united — is better than ever.
Michael W. Kempner is the President/CEO of MWW Group, an East Rutherford-based Public Relations firm.