With the start of 2013, the air hangs with a grey weightiness and the temptation to be despondent about America and her trajectory is nearly irresistible.
Thankfully, it appears we are not careening off the feared "fiscal cliff." However, we were rescued from this catastrophe only after an ample deadline was missed and with half the equation — sweeping spending cuts — put off for another vote in two months. Furthermore, within the first quarter of 2013, other cliff-like votes loom.
On Dec. 31, the Treasury Secretary announced we have reached our debt ceiling. Our last attempt to deal with this issue triggered a historic downgrade of the country's credit rating. At the end of March, our "continuing resolution" on the budget (something less than a full, fiscal year budget that should have been agreed to by Oct. 1) expires. Unless another is passed, temporary shutdown of a number of government functions and programs automatically kicks in.
Behind all of this stands a projection of deficits almost beyond comprehension.
With what seems the ossifying of personal rancor and philosophical differences in our public decision-making processes, we begin to doubt seriously our ability to even start to bridge, let alone actually bridge, the now epic gap between what we collectively give ourselves and what we collectively pay for.
We debate, denigrate and dither, even as we look aghast at several European nations — including once mighty Greece, the first democracy and fabled cradle of Western Civilization — on the literal brink of collapse because of their own sustained, now even militant, resistance to bring expenditures and revenues into some rational proximity.
Throw in the everyday fare of crime and violence in this nation, add a flurry of recent man-made and natural disasters, from Sandy Hook Elementary to Hurricane Sandy, and the rock of our republic seems, well, not so rock-like.
A common thread to most of these woes is a deeply troubling hostility between parties and people.
In some ways, this civic enmity suggests a threat more alarming than any posed by, say, fiscal profligacy itself.
As his "last communication" at the end of the Revolutionary War, George Washington issued a "Circular to the States," where he signaled his virtually unprecedented act of relinquishing supreme military command in the face of a war victory that gave him immense international stature and unrivaled domestic power.
In this extraordinary document, he also thoughtfully described for the fledgling country what he considered the key pillars of continuing independence and tranquility. The wise management of public credit is one such pillar. But, his final and most moving sentiments were reserved for his conviction that without "a brotherly affection and love for one another … we can never hope to be a happy nation."
Latter-day Saints should recognize in this an echo of expressions at the end of the Book of Mormon where there is a description of not one, but two massive civilizations entirely destroyed by inhuman hatred and rapacious self-indulgence. "Angry," "without order," "without mercy," "without principle," Mormon describes the faults of his own people (not even his enemies) as fundamentally a function of the fact that "they have lost their love, one towards another." They were, in a phrase, "past feeling."
The wonderful news is that, today, America is — as Mark Twain once said of Wagner's music — better than it sounds. The screaming headlines and endless cable news pronouncements notwithstanding, deep in the fabric of this country there still exists a rich spirit of liberty and love central to the preservation of the democratic order handed down to us by Washington and his compatriots. Evidence for this abounds in many places — too many, in fact, to list here. So, I simply turn to one rather unlikely source: Hollywood.