In better times, Americans have celebrated the dawning of a new year for its promise of good things to come, but in these times we have grown wary of what waits in tomorrow.
Since the shattering attacks of 9/11, we have lived for more than a decade in fear of terrorism. In hopes of gaining security, we’ve sent our young men and women to wars abroad and surrendered privacy and civil liberties at home.
Then came the crush of the Great Recession. Much was wiped out. Careers and lives were stymied. We’ve come to doubt whether the economy can lift all who apply their talents. Parents worry if they can provide. Young college graduates enter careers burdened by heavy debt. No job seems secure. Few dare ask for a raise.
In the last months and weeks of 2012, the anxiety grew. The nation teetered on a fiscal cliff, with the risk of individuals and the economy overall taking a hard fall.
Then came the Newtown massacre, following a series of other gun rampages. The NRA called for armed guards in every school. President Obama spoke of gun control and customers flooded gun shops to pile up arsenals against who knows what.
A call for confidence
Perhaps in this new year we should take strength from a president who guided the nation through an earlier time, a time, like ours, marked by economic distress and war. Franklin D. Roosevelt was a man unafraid whether he was facing domestic plutocrats or foreign tyrants. He told the nation then and his memory reminds the nation now, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
Roosevelt saw fear as a threat to liberty, for no people can be both truly free and always afraid. In 1941, with the horrors of World War II still ahead, he delivered a Jan. 6 address to Congress known as the “Four Freedoms” speech. He said the United States would help found a world in which people would have freedom of speech and expression, freedom to worship God in their own way, freedom from want and freedom from fear.
A better world
Generations later, some of those freedoms remain distant hopes in many countries. But American compassion and courage have helped open much of the world to free elections. Even those countries still repressed are gaining free expression and access to information beyond propaganda thanks to our ingenuity in developing the Internet and powerful and affordable tools for communication.
Roosevelt saw our country’s power arising from a free people’s ability to solve its problems while respecting one another’s rights. In his Four Freedoms speech, he said, “Since the beginning of our American history, we have been engaged in change – in a perpetual peaceful revolution – a revolution which goes on steadily, quietly adjusting itself to changing conditions – without the concentration camp or the quick-lime in the ditch.”
Today, the American Revolution enters another year. May it begin with optimism and confidence that whatever challenges 2013 brings, we have endured and overcome worse. We are resolved to be unafraid of foreign nations, of immigrants and of our own political and social divisions.
We are not naive about violence or hardship, but we will adjust and advance and prevail. In this new year in an ever renewing nation, the future is boundless and bright.
Happy New Year.