In the late 1950s, The Kingston Trio amused its college-age audiences with a song — “The Merry Minuet” — that began with these lyrics: “They’re rioting in Africa. They’re starving in Spain. There’s hurricanes in Florida, and Texas needs rain. The whole world is festering with unhappy souls.”
The song also mentioned that “the French hate the Germans, the Germans hate the Poles, Italians hate Yugoslavs, South Africans hate the Dutch.” And let’s not forget that it mentioned the “strife in Iran.” More than half a century has passed since the trio recorded that song, but its lyrics still resonate in a world that seemingly is (still) coming apart at the seams.
Consider the evidence: A brutal dictator clings to power in Syria with the help of his allies in Moscow; Egyptian generals contrive to overturn the outcome of the much-celebrated Arab Spring; there are frequent sectarian assassinations in Iraq; Sudan is being ripped apart by a civil war; the authorities in Bahrain are resorting to brutal tactics to preserve their power; and Nigeria is plagued with terrible strife delivered by a hard-line religious minority.
And what about Saudi Arabia, where the royal succession has been thrown in doubt because of the death this weekend of the next-in-line for the throne? The Saudis, collectively, may be the most important politicians in the entire Middle East and their relationship with the United States and other western nations is critical to the maintenance of peace in that region.
The Kingston Trio had no idea that by now the European Union — it didn’t even exist back at the time of “The Merry Minuet” — would be at risk of collapse because of the incredible difficulties associated with maintaining a common currency for so many nations with so many cultural and economic differences. That the United Kingdom, under former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, elected not to adopt the euro and stick to the pound sterling now seems an act of extreme prescience. It didn’t appear so back then.
The world clearly is in a mess — even serene Norway has had homegrown terrorism — and there is no sense that, in global terms, a brighter day is just around the corner.
But Americans have every reason to believe they are — at least by comparison — blessed. While the economic situation here at home may be discouraging at the moment, and while each side of the nation’s increasingly bitter political divide genuinely dreads the potential success of the other, the fact is the United States will end this year as one of the most stable, one of the wealthiest and one of the most fortunate countries in the world.
We have our problems, and they may be at a much more intense level than in any time since the Great Depression. The high level of unemployment is intolerable. The plight of college graduates, unable to find jobs but saddled with huge loan repayments, offends our sense of justice. The huge loss of families’ personal wealth is frightening. And the increasingly ugly tone of the political rhetoric is distressing. We are a divided nation, a nation waiting, anxiously, for happier times, yet our confidence that they’re on the horizon seems at a low ebb.
In November we will either elect a new president or hand the incumbent four more years to try to enact his agenda. Supporters of the losing candidate may genuinely dread the consequences, but remember this: Our political system remains the envy of the world. Our anxiety is absolutely natural, yet we all should be grateful for our good fortune.
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