I’m extremely discouraged and dispirited this week, thinking about Ferguson. Thinking about Eric Garner. Thinking about voices & the voiceless. Thinking about justice. Thinking about inequality in income, wealth, privilege, status.

And I’m wondering, too, from the heart of the boom — from Palo Alto and San Francisco — whether the country is starting to split into two in a way that will prove to be irreparable.

This isn’t an original thought, for sure. It just feels more acute to me than ever.

I tend to be an optimist, especially as relates to issues of our American republic. I think the work of the founders, and especially Madison and the Constitution, is unrivaled in human history, and has shown to be robust under many, many pressures over time.

But.

I read this editorial in the New York Times today, about how uncivil, disrespectful, unconstructive we have been these last 6 years. And it’s just depressing, what our civil life has become. So awful & inhumane. And so much about obstruction and taking. Not about building a better society.

And all I could think of was Dickens. Trite, I know. But sure feels to me like where we are:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way — in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

It’s easy to gloss over that, recalling it from when we all read it in high school. So take a few minutes, read more closely. Try to grok what Dickens was talking about.

If that doesn’t describe today’s America, I don’t know what does.

Obviously it’s not a hopeful comparison for today, given that Dickens was writing about the years leading up to the French Revolution.

And for the record, I don’t think that we’re there. But I do think that it’s increasingly clear that the greatest work of our times — and the great opportunity to do the most good — will be centered around repairing these rifts, these divides between race, between rich & poor, between the influential and the voiceless.

And I’m hopeful & optimistic that a new generation of heroes and role models is emerging to take up that work.

But there’s so much to do. We are miles from home.

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