The approaching dismal month of February doesn’t typically spark optimism in me, at least until spring training and the annual Full Belly fundraiser get here. But this year is different. I’m rolling into the second month of the year on waves of optimism and trust in others. There are more than a few reasons for my optimism and restored trust in us.
It’s an Olympic and a presidential election year. Even if neither competition adds much to our day-to-day lives, both spectacles will showcase our highest ideals and worst sportsmanship. Wilmington might not have a major-league affiliated minor league baseball team, but we’ve got the Sharks, Shakespeare on the Green and we don’t have a water-polluting cement plant. The new River Road isn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be, and I’m pretty sure we’ll continue to stumble toward solving some local problems together, even as we create others.
January started with the Wilmington premier of the 2010 Tony Award-winning “Memphis,” a magnificent musical whose power invites us to look at how far we’ve come toward solving some particularly nagging problems together—as well as just how far we have to go. The enthusiastic response of the ever growing and culturally diverse houses at Thalian Hall made me glow, and as we head into February I still have the tune from “Change Don’t Come Easy” stuck in my head. I trust us to support more new works like this in the coming year.
And President Obama’s final State of the Union address should have sparked optimism and trust in all of us. For some folks, the fact that it was this president’s last State of the Union is cause for celebration. Some criticized the speech as boring. It wasn’t as titillating as reality TV, and it wasn’t nearly as entertaining as “Memphis,” but I found the speech engaging and eloquent in a Shakespearean sort of way. Of course President Obama used the word “we” over 40 times in the opening few minutes of the speech. “We” is hard for one presidential candidate to pronounce, but I’m optimistic he could spell it if pressed.
Like every president, Obama has his critics and his defenders. Those who hated him at the beginning of his first term, hate him more now. Like folks who still consider Lincoln a vicious tyrant, they and their spiritual kith and kin are unlikely to change their views in the next 150 years. Some of his most vocal but least eloquent critics even blame Obama when one of their sons is charged with assault for hitting his wife.
The president’s defenders want to give him personal credit for seven years of sinking unemployment, booming economy (at least for the 1 percent), forward progress on human rights, LGBT rights, women’s issues, the Paris climate accord, the Iran nuclear deal, the Affordable Care Act, eliminating Osama Bin Laden as a threat, returning a share of troops to our shores, restoring diplomacy as an option in dealing with nation-states that may not enjoy doing business with us or see the world as we do.
It was refreshing to hear the president place blame for our progress squarely on us. He noted positive changes are not inevitable but they are, “…the result of choices we make together.” He continued to prompt collaboration and progress, “And we face such choices right now. Will we respond to the changes of our time with fear, turning inward as a nation, and turning against each other as a people? Or will we face the future with confidence in who we are, what we stand for and the incredible things we can do together?”
Although I’ll miss his eloquence, I figure we overcame our prejudices and fears to elect our first president of color (twice) and move a little forward in seven years. I figure come February 1 we’ll start fighting in Iowa and New Hampshire, sift through the 12 angry men, nutty professor and former First Lady to elect a replacement who will be able to keep the ball rolling.
Basically, I trust us.