I remain an optimist

How on earth can you be optimistic?

People ask me that. After all, the environment is crumbling. So they tell me. The planet is heating up like a teapot. We’re running out of...you name it. The poor grow more wretched. Discrimination abounds. War haunts us. Millions have no healthcare.

Surely, they tell me, my lenses cannot be so rose-colored that I cannot see these horrendous realities.

If they would listen, I would take stock for them.

I was born in 1942. When I was a kid most of our rivers ran green with gunk. Today most are clean and full of fish. When I was a kid the air of most cities reeked of pollution from factories. If you drove through cities like Gary, Indiana and Pittsburgh you could barely see the buildings through the smog. Cars spewed grey fog, trucks black fog. Walk or work in the city and you would sport a black fringed collar by noon. Today, our air is far far cleaner. And growing cleaner by the decade.

When I was a kid the poor were crammed into squalid tenements. With rats. And the fear of fire. And no air conditioners. And no washing machines or dryers. No cars. Little or no unemployment benefits. They would have swapped places with the poor of today and thought they’d gone to heaven.

When I was a kid there was no discrimination against blacks. There was brutal abuse. There were lynchings. They were corralled within our society. And in that corrall were few jobs, few opportunities. No black would conceive of running for mayor. As for blacks in Congress or the White House, Secretary of State, Supreme Court - nobody black or white could even dream of anything so outrageous. A black playing ball with the Dodgers was beyond the imagination of most Americans. Compare those conditions with those of today.

When I was a kid 400,000 Americans had died in World War II. Many thousands more would die in Korea. The Iraq War, by comparison, is a skirmish. The Russians would not deign to call it that. They lost 23 million people - 14 percent of their population - in the World War. The Poles lost 16 percent of their people. That war grew so immense, so deadly for so many, because countries were afraid to fight small wars to prevent a big war. Iraq is a small war, fought to try to prevent a larger one. A risk surely. But given how many millions died in World War II it seems a risk worth taking.

When I was a kid only a small percentage of students attended college. Only 6 percent of folks had degrees in 1950. Today, most parents assume their children will attend.

When I was a kid only 44 percent of Americans owned their homes. Today over 70 percent of us do. A huge percentage of us own two homes. Imagine: We own 50 million second homes.

A car was a luxury for most Americans when I was a kid. And today most families own at least two. Two-thirds of the freshmen at my local college own cars. Or their parents do and they drive them. When architects lay out new high schools they first sketch the parking lot for the juniors and seniors who will need to park at school.

When I was a kid people died from diseases we rarely hear about today. They died younger. Most Americans could not afford to retire until 65. And they died within 7 years of retiring. They could not dream of the situation today.

When I was born 47 babies out of 1000 never made it. Today only 7 die in infancy. Despite the poor health of immigrant moms. Despite the druggie moms.

Few Americans travelled overseas when I was a kid. Too expensive. Unless Uncle Sam paid the bill and bought the uniform.

When I was a kid most of my teachers taught us to be proud of what America had achieved. Today - in spite of all that has been achieved since then - textbooks are full of criticisms of this country.

All countries are due some criticism. But great achievements are due some recognition and appreciation. America has achieved more than my parents and grandparents ever imagined. And they were optimists.

I look at race relations. And wealth per person. And educational opportunities. And healthcare. And how few Americans lose their lives in warfare, compared to previous generations. And our air and water. And a hundred other ways in which our lives have improved in huge measure.

And I remain an optimist. Peering through crystal clear lenses.

How on earth can I be optimistic? How on earth could I be anything else?

From Tom ... as in Morgan.

For more columns and for Tom’s radio shows (and to write to Tom): tomasinmorgan.com.

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