Moving Forward with Tiny, Stumbling Steps

Today, an American president is visiting Cuba for the first time in nearly a century and calling for an end to the last vestige of a Cold War that supposedly ended 25 years ago, an ineffective embargo that accomplished nothing of practical value but certainly generated a lot of human misery.

Meanwhile, in Belgium, barbarous fanatics murdered a bunch of innocent people. One step forward, two steps back, round and round she goes.

On days like this, it’s easy to give in to despair, to allow yourself to think that the world is going to hell in a handbasket and nothing we do matters because the problems we face are intractable. One step forward, two steps back. But one paragraph of President Obama’s speech to the people of Cuba this morning stood out for me:

But just stop and consider this fact about the American campaign that’s taking place right now. You had two Cuban Americans in the Republican Party, running against the legacy of a black man who is President, while arguing that they’re the best person to beat the Democratic nominee who will either be a woman or a Democratic Socialist. Who would have believed that back in 1959?  That’s a measure of our progress as a democracy.

I participated tonight for the first time in a Democratic caucus in my home state of Utah. I’d heard stories of caucuses in years past where only a dozen people showed up, but today, tonight, the lines were stretched around the block. I had a pretty quick and easy experience myself, but I saw accounts on Facebook of people waiting hours to cast their ballots. In Utah, the reddest of the red states, where membership in the Republican party is all but assumed. Were all of these people Democrats? Can there possibly be so many Democrats in this entire state? Probably not. But if that many independents and, yes, probably some Republicans too, were moved to get involved tonight, something big is swirling around out there. And my gut feeling is that it’s pretty positive.

I grieve for the people of Brussels, just as I did for the people of Ankara and Paris before them. And I am genuinely worried about the possible outcome of the general election this fall. But no matter what happens in November, I firmly believe the forces of civilization are moving forward step by fumbling step. And the barbarians and fanatics of all descriptions — including our homegrown ones — can’t stop it. Not in the long run, anyhow.

As Andrew Sullivan used to frequently say on his departed and much-missed Daily Dish blog, know hope.