When do hopes fade and dreams die? As fall turns toward winter, such thoughts intrude. Admittedly such a question is distinctly at odds with our core beliefs. We have long been a “can do” culture, repeatedly exposed to an inspirational optimism that insists we believe in ourselves and our limitless potential, and urges us to overcome adversity so that we can reach our goals. And sometimes we succeed; determination should never be discounted. Still, it’s safe to assume that most people fall short, will advance only so far. Even as they continue to strive, in their heart of hearts most come to the realization that certain objectives are beyond reach. The perpetual battle against aging cannot be won. Losing and keeping weight off is almost always a lost cause. Travelling to distant destinations around the world may never come to pass. Economic security is unlikely to be achieved. Chronic ailments cannot be avoided or eliminated. Self-confidence may never reach desired levels. Family relationships will probably fall short of what one had expected. Careers will stall. Friends will pass away. Worries of one sort or another will never cease. But life will go on; joys there will be, but mixed together with disappointment, diminished hope, even resignation.
What is true for most of us also applies to our nation. The promises America made were not empty ones. We created a free, open, expansive society that liberated people from age-old traditions and restrictions and enabled millions to advance. Much has been achieved over the years. Still, given America’s exceptional potential, we’re unlikely to become the society we once imagined was possible. Poverty and homelessness will never be eradicated, thus dimming the prospect that inequality in America can be overcome. Illegal drugs will remain as a scourge of society; the plague of violence will not recede and the degradation of our environment will continue. Special interests will retain their outsized influence as our political system is distorted by those supplying cash in exchange for favors. Prejudice and racism will persist. Millions will discover that their quest for full participation and influence will be thwarted and indefinitely postponed.
The United States will likely continue to make advances and for many the quality of life will improve, but just as with individuals, expectations and hope as always will consistently lag behind realities. Life in America offers promises in abundance, but rarely does it manage to pay off in full.