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Things will get worse before they get better — but there’s reason for hope

Protesters march through President’s Circle at the University of Utah on their way to the Capitol during a fast, march and prayer vigil for racial injustice in Salt Lake City on Sunday, June 14, 2020.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Anybody who’s followed my work over the past few years knows that I am deeply pessimistic about America’s political system, but extremely optimistic about America’s future.

Admittedly, it’s a bit harder to be upbeat today than it was a year ago. An unprecedented pandemic sparked an economic crisis that threw 40 million people out of work. The murder of George Floyd sparked worldwide protests and forced us to face our nation’s long and troubling history of racism.

The depressing reality of these national concerns is made even worse by the personal reality of lockdowns and social isolation. It’s discouraging to walk down the street with so many buildings boarded up and businesses shut down. It’s unnerving when friends and loved ones get sick, even if it turns out to be nothing serious. Schools shut down, summer camps closed and human interaction seems to be at an all-time low.

Still, I remain optimistic. I know we’ll get through this as a nation and emerge stronger for it.

I say that with confidence, despite knowing that our political system can’t possibly rise to meet the moment. Obviously, I hope that politicians and other government officials will do their best. Executive orders and elections do have consequences — especially in the short-term. But the agendas of politicians don’t determine the nation’s future.

Instead, almost all positive change in America begins far outside the political system. We live in a land where the culture leads and the politicians lag behind. The good news is that when I look beyond the political system, there’s plenty of reasons for optimism.

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, my polling shows that the vast majority of voters recognize the reality of racial inequality in America. Importantly, people recognize that it’s not just a law enforcement issue, it’s a societal issue.

Last week, I showed that, despite the horrible news of recent months, America is not an angry and painfully divided nation. As is almost always the case, our nation’s political system is far more divided than the nation itself.

Most Americans are still willing to see the best in others. The overwhelming majority recognize that protesters have legitimate grievances and are looking for ways to peacefully express them. Similar majorities recognize that most police officers are good people trying to do a difficult and dangerous job. Two-thirds of voters hold both those views. They refuse to let the actions of a few tarnish the better nature of most citizens.

Such attitudes are a reason for optimism.

Another cause for hope is that the vast majority of Americans continue to embrace our nation’s noble founding ideals of freedom, equality and self-governance. We’re really struggling as a nation right now with the equality part of that equation. And to be honest, we don’t have the freedom and self-governance part completely figured out either.

But those ideals provide us with a direction. In trying to figure out how to get there, tens of millions of Americans have been reflecting upon their own biases and prejudices. What do we have to do to create a better society? How can we work together to build a better community? Such reflection and questioning will help us discover how best to apply those founding ideals to life in the 21st century.

Unfortunately, the road ahead will be very bumpy.

Over the years, in addition to voicing my optimism, I have repeatedly warned that things will get worse before they get better. I suggested a moment would arrive when the status quo would collapse and need to be rebuilt. I never knew what that moment would look like or what would bring it about.

Now I do. We are living through it.

For me, that became clear while watching a SpaceX rocket launch two astronauts into earth orbit. It brought back great memories of NASA’s golden era in the 1960s. But, as in the ‘’60s, the excitement of a new space adventure took place amidst a news cycle filled with racial tensions and protests. The glorious possibilities of space travel and new technologies stood out in great contrast to the uncomfortable realities on the ground.

The late ‘60s and early ‘70s were a time in our national life when things got worse before they got better. That’s the phase America is entering today and the next several years will be as turbulent as that long-ago era. Like that earlier time, the chaotic and unpredictable process will change our society and our nation forever. When it is over, we will be just a little bit closer to living up to our noble founding ideals.

Scott Rasmussen is an American political analyst and digital media entrepreneur. He is the author of “The Sun is Still Rising: Politics Has Failed But America Will Not.”