Faith, the substance of things hoped for but as yet unseen, is a fundamental cornerstone of American life. Hope, the aspirational part of faith, is undeniably one of the more powerful of human emotions – it leads to striving, self-abnegation, to working toward a better future in spite of tough odds. But there comes a point – and last month's Democratic Convention tone demonstrates this – where the belief in things unseen can become dangerous. And that is when hope is divorced from reality.
Nothing could be more illustrative of hope divorced from reality than the worldview President Obama outlines. When he talks about the strong Midwestern values of his grandparents – hard work, humility, modesty – he neglects to mention that at the time in which they lived, the American economy was a virtual well-spring of opportunity. Virtually anyone who wanted a good-paying job could find one, and there was plenty of work to go around on America's farms, which worked at virtually capacity to feed a rapidly growing middle class. But today, the picture is very different. Much of that era is gone, replaced by rusted out factories and abandoned grain silos. Many of those towns in Kansas have thinned out – their local populations having migrated further afield in search of ever-elusive opportunity.
Obama speaks with a hopefulness of someone who has not been kept up at night really worrying about America's national security. He seems to believe that Donald Trump is inventing boogeymen – boogeymen that in Obama's world ceased to exist the minute Osama bin Laden was brought to justice by U.S. Special Forces. And yet, since bin Laden's death ISIS picked up where al-Qaida left off and has committed an increasing number of deadly terrorist attacks all over the world. Obama hopes this is not the case – and he can almost convince himself that his inability to stem the tide of terrorist attacks in Europe and on American soil is actually a sign of progress. "We've killed more terrorists in the past eight years than any one American president in history," he'll proclaim proudly. Yes, but we've also had more terrorist attacks on U.S. soil during the past eight years – and those attacks have killed more Americans than any attacks since 9/11.
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And so, while Obama hopes that killing a few terrorists with cool-looking unmanned drones will make the problem go away, the problem of terrorism gradually gets worse. One surmises that Obama must be oblivious to the fact that most of these attacks are suicide attacks – in which the terrorists themselves are counting on getting killed. And so, the point, again, obscured by the veil of "hope" is that it does not matter to terrorists that they are being killed – only that they are able to take many innocent lives in the process.
Misplaced hope also leads to strategic blunders, many of which Obama has committed with unbridled optimism – but disastrous unintended consequences. Speaking of his drone policy, for example, Obama brags about the ability to kill terrorists without risking the lives of American soldiers. Well, that may be true in the strict sense – but the real effect of drone warfare is to create a lot of collateral damage while failing to neutralize the threat. And so, the more noncombatants killed by drones in these attacks – including children, wedding parties, the wrong families altogether – the easier it becomes for terrorists groups to recruit new members and send them to Europe to kill unarmed civilians.
So, yes, Mr. President, fewer American soldiers died, but far more innocent American, European and Middle Eastern civilians are dying because of the focus by terrorists on soft targets. Instead, strong American leadership would insist that we control the ground in these lawless regions, not just remain content with picking off terrorists from the air and creating a vacuum on the ground in which they fester and proliferate.
But, of course, in the absence of reality, hope springs eternal. It would be nice if criminal justice reform and mass incarceration were problems divorced from the reality of crime and lawlessness. But as we are seeing, with the deaths of civilians at the hands of police officers and the targeting of officers by lawless madmen, that is not the reality. When you "hope" for more opportunity in the inner cities like Chicago, but don't provide any actual jobs, then you have a terrible disconnect on your hands. Individuals listening to our president's hope tour are hyped up on hope, only to return to communities that are still plagued by the economic problems – lack of jobs, manufacturers moving to China and Mexico, low wages – they were facing before they left. But now its worse; as the powerful narcotic of hope wears off and reality sets in again, people are more depressed, feel more anxious and more despairing of their living conditions.
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What if, instead of painting a falsely rosy picture of the world, Obama uses the opportunity to come to grips with the world as it actually is? Perhaps, then, we could at least be at a place where we could start doing something about it.
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