Still, compelling as Noonan’s argument is, I’m not quite so gloomy. Just as my own parents worked hard and instinctively believed that their five sons would rise above their barely middle class station, I have faith that my own teenaged children will, in their adulthood, forge their own successful paths in life. Yes, current conditions in the U.S. are far worse now than 25 years ago, but only a congenital pessimist would claim that smart young people (regardless of the cynics who claim America’s youth have been “dumbed down” by technology) won’t find their own answers. Intelligence isn’t a trait that vanishes from generation to generation. I fully expect that the near future holds the promise of private industry sectors not imagined today; that the next group of leaders in finance, the arts, science and technology will carve out a new version of America, and the innovation and excitement, particularly after a prolonged period of economic and social unease, will be invigorating and momentous. That’s consistent with the history of the United States, a series of peaks and valleys that gives way to re-invention.
It’s not my intention to get all gooey “Morning in America” here, for what Noonan describes—a weary and downtrodden populace governed by clueless at best, corrupt at worst, elected officials—is very real. I simply don’t believe this condition is as permanent as what she describes. This may be a “lost decade,” but during that time not everyone will be wringing their hands or just going through the motions. A new political class is bound to emerge, and its leaders, from both the Democratic and Republican parties, will synthesize the most basic tenets of what’s loosely called the Tea Party (financial responsibility and government accountability) and an answer to the immigration morass. America in the coming decades will be less white, which is simply an evolutionary reality—today’s Hispanics and Pakistanis are yesterday’s Eastern Europeans, Irish and Italians—and, at least from my perspective, something to cheer about. It’s my contention that perhaps as soon as 2020, a leader with Bobby Jindal’s mindset and Barack Obama’s rhetorical skills will unify the country and its citizens will prosper and exhibit, once again, the basic civility that has, more often than not, bolstered the American Dream.