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Observations: Better than ever

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By Mitch Traphagen


These guys didn’t risk their lives and wealth on a nation of whiners. Americans are still a strong and proud people and from the adversity of the past few years, we will emerge stronger and better than ever. We can do better, we will do better. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress
On this sailing journey, a trip that has carried me down the coast of America at a walking pace, I have seen first-hand the impact of the economic conditions the news trumpets and the politicians bemoan, some while pointing the finger of blame at others. The most telling sign was in passing enormous waterfront homes that were clearly built during the housing boom sit empty, with fading for sale signs in the overgrown yards. While most are in use displaying the success of the American Dream, the empty homes are a physical manifestation of broken dreams. But far worse was passing through the small towns with closed factories, boarded-up storefronts and apparently little hope for the future.

But America is all about hope. With the dawn of 2011, I can feel a change in the air. I can see it in storefronts that are open again by entrepreneurs willing to roll the dice for a better future. That America is the greatest nation on earth has been no fluke. It was achieved through innovation and hard work. Americans have always strived to succeed in everything we set out to do.

Unfortunately, it seems we were more interested in living off the rewards of our success than building upon it. We went on a decades-long buying binge that led us to the very edge of an economic cliff. Like Wiley E. Coyote in the old Road Runner cartoons, we ran off the cliff and there was an uncomfortable moment of suspension in mid-air — almost a disbelief — before the fall.

So we fell. That’s OK, it happens. The smart people are simply dusting themselves off to start over again. To the naysayers and the prophets of doom who are gleefully predicting the end of America as we know it, I can only say:  Get dressed, get a job, move out of your parents’ basement, and work towards something useful for yourself and for this nation.

“An optimist stays up until midnight to see the new year in. A pessimist stays up to make sure the old year leaves,” said the late Kansas City Star columnist and author Bill Vaughan. For nearly a decade now, I’ve been the pessimist on the surface, cheering the fact the year has come to an end, all the while secretly maintaining optimism of the coming New Year. When you are fat and happy, it is so easy to get into a “woe is me” mode. Complaining about life’s hardships and missteps is a luxury relatively few in this world can afford. After all, if you have time to complain, chances are you aren’t starving or you’d be looking for food rather than bellyaching.

I have nothing to complain about yet I still catch myself doing it. I know America is coming back from the fall. I can feel it and I’ve seen it. I have hope and I have seen proof that my hope is well founded. The news of our downfall has been greatly exaggerated. We give to others, we sacrifice for others and in the end, we care about making things better for our neighbors and our children. Americans are a strong and proud people, filled with flaws but good in heart. Quoting Bill Vaughan again, “A citizen of America will cross the ocean to fight for democracy, but won’t cross the street to vote in a national election.”

So we aren’t perfect. But we’ve been doing it for 235 years and the outcome has been pretty good. Despite what you may have read, the United States still leads the world in manufacturing by a large margin. We still lead the world in technology and in churning out really expensive movies that make the rest of the world dream about living here. And when the {expletive} hits the fan anywhere on this globe, the world still looks to us to help fix it. America remains the promised land and I am certain that the adversity we’ve faced in the past few years is leaving us stronger and better than we’ve ever been.

The hope and faith I have is so strong that it has overcome my outer pessimism this year. As such, I didn’t bother to stay up until midnight to make sure that 2010 left but I did wake up to see the dawning of 2011. It was a beautiful morning in America.


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