Editorial: Putting the times in perspective
Sometimes there’s a comment, or thought, that realigns one’s perspective. For me, that happened Tuesday when former Middlebury College President John McCardell, a professor of history, was guest speaker at a Tuesday luncheon in Middlebury. After an enlightening talk on the Civil War and the period of Reconstruction afterward — a time of extreme antagonism between the North and South — he was asked to transport himself 20 years into the future and look back on today’s current strife and put it in historic context.
It was one of those astute questions that doesn’t, of course, have a precise answer. It can only be conjecture. But true to form, McCardell’s response was insightful, which I’ll paraphrase and simplify as such: Those of us who have lived into our older decades come to see that today’s times, however turbulent, may not be as bad, or as threatening to our nationhood, as they seem in the moment.
Take that thought and extrapolate: Much like we see the riots and upheaval of the late 1960s and early 1970s — a time of great unrest on college campuses focused as they were on protesting the Vietnam war, the draft, the Black Power movement (and more), plus the Watergate scandal and President Nixon’s resignation — those decades today don’t seem as fraught, primarily because we not only survived, but also prospered.
Suppose, then, 20 years from now, ex-president Trump is a historical footnote in a long-line of national leaders who, as a one-term president, twice impeached and twice defeated by President Joe Biden, stood out as a treacherous leader who threatened our democracy, but ultimately was prosecuted for his misdeeds.
That, of course, is an optimist’s perspective. It’s what should happen if our democratic system is ruled by rational thought and action. (If Trump were to win the upcoming election, the nation’s arc will be forever changed, and these times will be seminal.)
How then do we process these seemingly fraught times with proper perspective? One way is to focus on the positive forces around us. In Middlebury, the Town Hall Theater has launched a $7.5 million expansion project, and is 73% of the way toward its goal, with a substantial $1 million gift from Middlebury College. The town also just witnesses a very successful film festival. In Vergennes, the Opera House and city hall received a $330,000 grant towards its $1.6 million renovation — improvements long in the making, which will add a sparkle and accessibility to that treasured building. And while Addison County, like the rest of Vermont, was hit by costly flooding, the reconstruction has been going quickly with improvements made to prevent or lessen the damage from future storms.
In short, among all the political firestorms nationally, daily life at home — community by community — is not so bad. Oh, we all have our troubles and we all could to do more to assure everyone has equal opportunity, move quicker to combat climate change, and champion education and technical training as the cure-all to most of our ills, but — post-pandemic — when the daily focus is on how our local high school teams will fare this fall, we’re doing just fine.
Keep that in mind when you’re deciding how you can help the nation through its rough spots along the way.
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