But the outcome of the 2010 elections made it less likely that we're going to make an orderly transition to a safe future, let alone a better one. It wasn't likely anyway, but bad times that most Americans can't even imagine are likely to become obvious sooner, and the far future has really taken a blow.
I remind you of what Paul Krugman wrote about the short-term future: "This is going to be terrible. In fact, future historians will probably look back at the 2010 election as a catastrophe for America, one that condemned the nation to years of political chaos and economic weakness. "
A battle royal is ahead for the long-term future. Yesterday President Obama reiterated what he's said in interviews, that his emphasis for the next two years is on clean energy policy, which is the positive way of talking about efforts to control the Climate Crisis. But the GOP--the Grand Oil Party--has moved to unanimity on Climate Crisis denial, becoming the party of anticipatory mass murder. Writes Marc Ambinder (with my emphasis): "The GOP plans to hold high profile hearings examining the alleged "scientific fraud" behind global warming, a sleeper issue in this election that motivated the base quite a bit." (The rest of his analysis in that column sounds pretty sane as well.)
I find myself becoming less interested in the shifting winds of politics and more concentrated on both the longer view, and the much more specific. In terms of the longer view, some of us had the hope that the improvements and stability in our lifetime meant that humanity had become mature and smart enough to move into a brighter future for all, including the ability to meet challenges like global heating we might encounter along the way. Certainly a better test for human maturity could not be devised than the Climate Crisis, which requires intelligent analysis, emotional and psychological maturity, anticipatory thinking and imagination, high levels of skills and confidence, and a society that welcomes diversity and has outgrown petty divisions.
But another reading of these decades is that they were a fortunate but temporary aberration: a product of several kinds of luck (America's position after World War II vs. the rest of the world, an unusually beneficent climate period, etc.) These two possibilities are not mutually exclusive--in fact, this period of luck and relative stability, when so many scourges of disease, war and poverty were in abeyance for millions of people was the perfect opportunity to marshal our physical, intellectual and psychological resources to really grow up as a species spread everywhere in a global society, capable of managing our collective future.
That no longer seems at all likely. There was progress in some parts of the world, but not enough, and especially not enough here in the U.S. The consequences of the past and our inability to deal with them in the present (most notably, in the Climate Crisis caused by byproducts of industrial prosperity) are very likely to cause significant hardships and disruptions, already a reality for millions across the globe, as well as unheard and unknown numbers even in America. This is almost inevitably going to grow significantly worse in the next 50 years, and beyond.
The refusal to face this reality will be painful to watch now. Those who continue the daily struggle against it will need renewed courage, tempered by hard-won wisdom. But once again they will be fighting to keep our society and our country from slipping back even farther. We still haven't made up the ground lost in the Bush II years--not even the Reagan years. If Obama's election was a step forward, this election was at least a half step back. And when we need to move forward quickly, that may turn out to be too much.