Whatever the outcome of Election Day, keep confidence in America

This is an era of uncertainty and surprises. That’s all the more reason why, whatever comes of Election Day, Americans shouldn’t lose their composure or their confidence in their country.

Because this is such an uncertain time, it’s easy to let our fears run away with us. Sometimes it’s even tempting to wish that any unpleasantness around the bend would hurry up and arrive, the better for us to stop waiting and start taking action. But these kinds of thoughts aren’t just damaging. They’re distorting.

Not only do they take away the hard-earned perspective of the past. They put our present state of mind at the mercy of a strange attitude toward the future — too fatalistic in some ways, and too cloudy in others.

Our past reminds us that America has been far more divided, far more violent and far more at sea than today. In relatively recent times, such as the 1970s, the civic fabric had frayed to a degree that would cause many armchair pundits to lose their minds online today. Bombings and even airplane hijackings were familiar, sometimes almost routine occurrences. The string of wars reaching 50 years back from that the middle of that decade imposed round after round of military drafts that throw today’s grinding and unrewarding military operations into sobering perspective.

In an ironic way, our very nervousness and agitation under today’s circumstances reflects just how far we’ve come from the truly bad old days.

Of course, that doesn’t mean things can’t go seriously wrong again. That awareness should help moderate the extreme, swiftly shifting views of the future that are warping our sense of the present. Technology and politics alike often traffic in wildly optimistic tales about the future. At the same time, our culture also amplifies and obsesses over nightmarish stories about impending dystopia.

We’re apt to feel that, at the same time every advance puts peace and harmony so close to our reach, it brings the risk of our own destruction just as near. We’re all too easily tempted to agree when we’re told every election or decision or choice is a last-chance scenario with everything on the line.

The reality is different. History and human nature shows that easy street is fleeting, and justice is hard-sought and even harder-earned. Freedom and comfort don’t solve all of life’s problems, but life without them is a grueling march.

While elections, policies, and officeholders matter, their ebb and flow is hard to bear without a firm understanding that our individual and shared lives entail a series of trials and challenges no matter what.

Americans of all kinds feel this year that our democracy and our country are being tested. If we want to persevere, regardless of whatever the results from Election Day, we need to ensure that our worst fears in our moments of greatest weakness do not become self-fulfilling prophesies. Even if we struggle sometimes to be friends, we must not, as Abraham Lincoln counseled, be enemies.

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