I was doing some reading for leisure last night, and I read the following paragraph:
“Even now, the domestic political implications are still working themselves out. The political dilemma of democracy is that the time span needed for solutions to contemporary economic problems is far longer than the electoral cycle by which leaders’ performance is judged at the polls. How many politicians dare to risk their offices in proclaiming that the good times are over? Who is willing to tell his constituents that a wise policy will bring with it a decline in the standard of living, at least for a while? And what happens in the inevitable period of disillusionment when young men and women leave school and college to find their skills rejected and join the millions thrown out of work since the oil crisis? The way is open for demagoguery, political polarization, and violence.” Henry Kissinger, Years of Upheaval, 1982, page 886.
Kissinger was writing about the energy crisis of the 1970s. The decade began with bountiful and inexpensive energy—industry had been booming since the recovery after World War II. When the oil-producing nations began making demands of the oil companies early in the 1970s, the American government chose to remain uninvolved, to let the market correct itself. The problem exploded with the war of October 1973, when Egypt and Syria attacked Israel, and Israel prevailed—in part because of an airlift of military supplies by the United States. From Libya to Iran, Muslim governments boycotted oil sales to the United States and raised the price of oil precipitously. This unexpected increase in the cost of energy led to a recession with inflation of prices, a combination rare enough that economists were not sure how to fix both problems simultaneously.
Around the time Kissinger’s book was published, the American economy began to recover. Fueled by constantly changing technology involving computers, American companies hired college graduates, and the turmoil Kissinger feared did not come to pass.
Kissinger’s central point is valid. Leaders in a democracy must be politicians, and politicians who warn of hard times ahead tend to lose elections. Big problems are hard to fix without difficult periods of transition. Ignoring big problems does not make them go away. Sooner or later, the difficult period of transition happens anyhow, and politicians respond by blaming one another.
During the last ten years, the economy has struggled. College graduates are unemployed or underemployed. Honors students with respectable degrees are working in fast food service, in stores such as WalMart, and at low-paying part time jobs in their chosen careers. The unrest described by Kissinger more than thirty years ago has arrived as he predicted: “demagoguery, political polarization, and violence.”
Is the United States of America facing its darkest days ever in 2016? I beg to differ with those who answer “yes.” Times were worse for the United States in 1861 through 1865, and probably during the years leading up to the Civil War. Times were hard during the Vietnam War and during the Watergate crisis. The Great Depression was another time of struggle and hardship for the United States. Political polarization and violence characterized those times.
Even though things have been worse, they are not good today. The word “demagoguery” is used by opponents of both major candidates for U.S. President to explain their fears. Many voters are dismayed by the choice they are being asked to make this November. Still, I believe in the balance of powers in our government. I believe that the United States which survived the 1860s and the 1960s can also survive the election of 2016. When Americans vote, I hope they will choose wise men and women to serve in Congress, men and women able to turn back the wrong ideas and plans of a dangerous President. With God’s help, America will endure. J.