"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness..." So begins Dickens "A Tale of Two Cities," set amidst the French Revolution in 1789. So might begin a tale of 2015 where the U.S. economy is booming, yet citizens feel hopeless; where we are continually presented with technical wonders, but elect fools to Congress. The paradoxical tone of 2015 should not be surprising because Americans are laboring under the stress of four wars. This is an opportunity for liberals.
The first war is on Terror. For most Americans, this war arrived on September 11, 2001, with the horrific attacks in New York and Washington. However, the Global Terrorism Database reports that from 1970-2011 there were 2,600 terrorist attacks in the U.S. The Global Terrorism Database defines terrorism as "the threatened or actual use of illegal force and violence by a non-state actor to attain a political, economic, religious, or social goal through fear, coercion, or intimidation." This definition includes not only Al Qaeda but others such as the American militia movement responsible for the Oklahoma City bombing. From 2001-2011 the three groups responsible for the largest number of U.S. terrorist attacks were "the Earth Liberation Front" (50), "the Animal Liberation Front" (34), and Al Qaeda (4).
While U.S. political leaders call upon Muslim leaders to renounce terrorism, the Global Terrorism data indicate that all faiths and political movements need to renounce "illegal force and violence." Clearly a way to combat terror is through increased tolerance. This was shown by the millions who marched in Paris after the Charlie Hebdo killings. But this will not be sufficient, because terrorism has an economic as well as a religious/ideological component.
The second war concerns Class. It's the same conflict between the rich and the poor that fueled the French Revolution. Now it's cast in mythos that any American can become part of the one percent if they try hard enough and, conversely, if citizens are mired in poverty it is their own fault.
It's no accident that 15 of the 19 jihadists who perpetrated the 9/11 attacks came from Saudi Arabia, where there is an economic gulf between the ruling elite and the average Saudi. However, the U.S. has the worst income inequality in the developed world.
Clearly the way to battle class is to equalize wealth and privilege. That's the message of Senator Elizabeth Warren and the new populism. To complicate matters, the rich are also polluters.
The third war is being waged on the environment. At year end, the United Nations reported, "Climate change is not a far-off problem. It is happening now and is having very real consequences on people's lives."
We've gone beyond the necessity for public awareness; something has to be done or the planet, as we know it, will perish. That's the message of Pope Francis and other leaders.
While laboring under the burden of three wars, Americans are suffering from an unprecedented attack on personal privacy. In common law privacy is "the right of people to lead their lives in a manner that is reasonably secluded from public scrutiny."
In 2013, U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed
The NSA has built an infrastructure that allows it to intercept almost everything. With this capability, the vast majority of human communications are automatically ingested without targeting. If I wanted to see your emails or your wife's phone, all I have to do is use intercepts. I can get your emails, passwords, phone records, credit cards.
Recently, the United Nations Human Rights office declared, "The use of mass surveillance technology effectively does away with the right to privacy of communications on the Internet altogether." Surveillance inevitably becomes a tool for suppression.
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness..." Beset by four wars, it's no wonder that many Americans are deeply depressed. Nonetheless, these challenging times are an opportunity for liberals to lead the US out of the darkness, to renew the struggle for a world of peace and justice.
To find the courage to forge a new progressive movement, it's wise to consider the words of liberal leaders of the past. Eleanor Roosevelt said, "We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face." Nelson Mandela advised, "It always seems impossible, until it's done."
As we struggle against these four wars, we should remember the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, "It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness."