We can improve, and we have to keep trying to do so. But our efforts need to be undertaken in a spirit of moderation — in constant awareness that canceling, firing, and humiliating individuals, like tearing down public monuments outside of legal processes, are deeds that many others will, with reason, view as acts of injustice in their own right. They certainly won’t succeed in righting past wrongs, or making it possible for America to be born again, starting over from scratch, cut free from and capable of transcending its immensely complicated history, teeming as it is with people and events both stunningly beautiful and grotesquely ugly, politically magnificent and morally appalling.
Max Weber was right that most of the time politics can be likened to the “slow drilling of hard boards”: tedious, difficult, frustrating, often backbreaking, sometimes heartbreaking work, without end. That’s how progress is almost always made — not through ecstatic experiences of collective action and grand displays of moral righteousness that open up wholly new futures, but through painstaking trials and tribulations, setbacks and renewed efforts, hemmed in at all times by the capacity to cajole one’s fellow citizens to embrace the change.
Achieving that persuasion is especially difficult right now, in our time of partisan and ideological polarization. We can lament this, but pretending it isn’t true won’t change it, and may even make it worse.