Voters may well be poised to dramatically shift the balance of power in Washington in favor of Republicans, just two years after voting to dramatically shift the balance of power in favor of Democrats. The psychology of such mood swings might seem to indicate a kind of bipolar nature of the electorate, untethered from any guiding principles at all.
I don’t think that’s the case.
In reality, most cultures progress by zigzagging toward their goals, not traveling a straight line. The zigzagging can look chaotic, even wild, but it isn’t. Yes, we may veer very far off course. Yes, we may wonder how we could possibly have made massive mistakes. Yes, we will be terribly wrong, again and again. Yet, "true north" will ultimately be revealed in the vector of progress we ultimately achieve.
The truth we seek as a society is a powerful magnet, but not so powerful that it overpowers man's natural search for alternatives and willingness to explore possibilities. God, present in all things individual and collective, does not push us toward knowledge; He shines a light. We wander. We strive. We debate. We test-drive possible vehicles to take us into the future. Because we are inherently human (the same as being inherently good) we want to find the fairest, most liberating path.
We have taken a short run at a future in which businesses and the working population are harnessed (and some would say enslaved) in service to providing entitlements like health insurance and 99 weeks of unemployment to all Americans. We have taken a look at whether we could entirely avoid the pain of industries collapsing of their own inertia and dead weight, and folks losing homes they could never afford, and banks swindling the population and then being reformed by public charity. We have seen what it looks like up ahead if we apologize for our national character or seek to dissolve it in the waters of some common denominator. And we have seen that this is a path to ruin—not just for this nation, but, ultimately, for the world that relies on our creativity and commitment to freedom.
We are good and decent, and we wished for everything to be OK for everyone right now. That may be very dangerous. It may be hopeless. It may be very naïve. It may be a drug that intoxicates. But it does not make us bad stewards of the future. Because we do not sleep forever.
We have seen. We have kept our eyes open as a population, even when leaders may have thought we were blind. Such is the nature of a great and free people.
Think about it: Millions and millions of people have dedicated their energies in these few years to an entirely new movement—the Tea Party. That movement may never have coalesced were it not for the sharp left turn the country took by electing President Obama. And the ideas that are born of that movement may be ones we very much need to move in the direction of autonomy and self-actualization.
Ten years from now, it might be another movement that we need, creating momentum in a somewhat different direction. Remember, we zigzag forward; we don’t march in lockstep.
We are the country that liberated the world from tyranny more than once, cleansed itself of slavery and now envisions a 100-Year Starship to explore the universe. We zigzagged here.
I know this is an optimistic vision, but it is the same optimism I have been privileged to receive as a gift from listening to many thousands of life stories over the past twenty years. No one, it turns out, who finds God (or Truth, or whatever you want to call the immeasurable force that inspires and connects us) does so without a lot of wandering and bad decisions and struggle. Again, it’s the inevitable drama of the person in search of a better life. You have to fight for it. You have to clear away lots of bad ideas. Very often, you have to look at them, in order to do that. I have seen people flirt with danger, bask in innocence or ignorance or denial, lose themselves in depression or drug addiction or depravity, become blind with rage or fear, yet ultimately find the best in themselves.
We are, individually and collectively, human. And in that humanity, we will see that some of our greatest momentum forward comes after we swing left and right. We have that privilege as Americans, because we still have freedom of choice and a compass inside us that points us, but does not push us, true north.
Dr. Keith Ablow is a psychiatry correspondent for Fox News Channel and a New York Times best-selling author. His book, “Living the Truth: Transform Your Life Through the Power of Insight and Honesty” has launched a self-help movement. Dr. Ablow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.