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We Made It Thank God

Chris D. Smith

The changing of the calendar inspires reflection among mere mortals. Muckraker and Net legend Matt Drudge ended his New Year’s Eve broadcast a few minutes before midnight, with this joyful exhalation: “Thank God, we made it!”

His declaration hung poignantly in the air. Drudge had given the eulogy for the decade and the century in five words.

Many have described the 20th century as the bloodiest ever, and certainly among the most depraved. I always question such macabre interpretations of the 20th century. I believe that this century has provided more sterling proof of man’s capacity for progress and moral triumph than perhaps any other. We have seen evil this century, during many times and tests, and nearly every time, we have overcome it.

Indeed, we have made it.

Thanks to Arthur C. Clarke, 2001 stood in the public psyche as the future annus mirabilis, the future miracle year where man was to finally complete the loop connecting his past and future. Human existence was to have purpose once again.

Reality strongly suggests that such existential breakthroughs are not imminent, but hope does remain. We would do well to recognize this new year as a pristine opportunity to break out of the postmodern malaise which has overcast the last decade.

Sure, as a nation we’ve been filling our pockets, scolding tyrants, and generally marveling at our own wizardry and power. Yet it has all taken place against a surreal backdrop. Like being in a dream and knowing so, being an American has been good, so good in fact that mental alarms go off. Our (selective) history tells us that being American is synonymous with dilemma and subsequent revelation, challenge followed by triumph, and crisis preceding heroism. We have had none of this during the 1990s.

The Rwandan genocide, perhaps our one real chance for heroism, passed by with the United States powerless and unwilling. Our great challenges -- bringing peace to the Middle East, restoring our civic trust, expanding freedom at home and abroad -- have left us covered in bitter failure. And our great dilemma, the question of the impeachment and removal of a President, ended not in clarity and resolution, but in a desperate “muddling through.”

And yet, we made it.

Tragedy and missed opportunity were not definitive of the United States in the 1990s, though. Wealth defined us, and a deep cultural flux was the subtext. Sugary opulence crystallized over everything, making even the worst news and images seem a bit rosier. Remarkably, we came to love capitalism. Mysteriously, we saw steep drops in the major social pathologies of previous decades, like crime, abortion, and teen pregnancy, proving that social decay isn’t a permanent condition of postmodern life. Racial animosity receded as a new consensus emerged in middle America about the virtue of racial and cultural diversity. Neither last nor least, the old virtues of individualism and enterprise regained currency.

However, perhaps therein lies the problem with our having “made it.” We still do not yet know to where we have come. Like car wheels spinning in the mud, individual gains have been offset by collective public losses. For now, we spin on, knowing that if we do not move we will eventually run out of gas. We spin; we wait. Surreality creepeth.

There are signs that 2001 may bring new clarity. Our recent national election debacle actually brought people into the streets, awakening long-dormant political passions. And our deflating economy seems to herald the return of sensibility and realism, though our department stores suffered a tough Christmas because of it.

Drudge is right -- America did make it. Let us hope that she makes it again.