Is good will enough?


“Peace on Earth; good will toward man.”

And woman. And others. Et cetera. The old Christmas message is a great one, if only humankind could really keep it in our hearts for the rest of the year, as Ebenezer Scrooge was encouraged to do by the spirits.

I’m going to be harping on this topic a lot in the coming year: Are good will, charity, and hope enough? Or do we need to reach deeper and actually trust each other, across the issues that divide us, instead of depending on good will alone? It applies to a vast array of issues — government/corporate relations, job creation, legislative process, and more.

This is a huge issue for progressives and Democrats at large going forward, because it’s a big reason why we’ve been treading water (at best) for decades now. The conservative movement has spent the better part of forty years telling Americans that government can’t be trusted. Viscerally it makes sense; plenty of the Constitution itself is rooted in a distrust of tyranny, and that’s why we have a bicameral legislature, an independent judiciary, checks and balances, and all that.

But the key to the conservative project has been to undermine Americans’ trust in each other, and thus in our government. Race baiting, gay baiting, grainy scary-looking campaign videos: all designed to make us scared of everyone who doesn’t look exactly like ourselves.

After all, with a government of the people, by the people, for the people, that government is going to be tough to trust if you don’t first trust the other people involved. Progress on important issues requires trust in government to be strong enough to maintain majorities and executive leadership long enough to achieve the long-term progress that is absolutely necessary to our success as a nation.

We must first trust ourselves to make good decisions for our own situations, our own families, our own fortunes. Subsequently, we need to trust each other — neighbors, colleagues, political adversaries — regardless of ideology, upbringing, or class. We need to trust one another because of what we share, and not avoid and fear each other because of what we don’t.

That’s what I’ve been thinking about this holiday season, and it’s quickly rising to the top of my 2011 resolutions list.

That, and going back to the gym on a regular basis.