The Long Way Home 11.10.23

Probably one of the worst questions a potential employer ever asked me during a job interview was, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” 

Judging by the outcomes, answering, “I see myself as your boss, and I will delight in terminating you,” never leads to a job offer. It's a good thing I’ve been self-employed most of my life.

There is some merit to thinking about the future. It’s pretty tough to get where you’re going without a destination in mind. 

After all these years, though, I haven’t seen a five-year plan, business or government, strategic or otherwise, come to fruition. Sometimes the outcome was better, sometimes worse, but not often did things end up according to plan. 

That’s not to say taking a long-term view of the future is a bad idea. Regarding almost any issue, from climate change to the Middle East, getting anyone to view much past the next 24 hours is nearly impossible. 

Today, politicians are accusing each other of corruption and treason. Rather than working together with a long-term view, elected officials are playing a " Whack-A-Mole " game with our country's challenges, like whether to make Daylight Saving Time year-round. And we citizens become cynical, confused, and downright distrusting of the people seeking office. 

According to a survey published by the Pew Research Center last year, nine out of ten of us “say at least some political candidates seek office as a means of serving their own interests.” Even more troubling, “About a third (35%) say few or no candidates run because they want to serve the community.” 

The survey focused on local, state, and federal office seekers. 

No wonder we’re a pretty cynical bunch. According to Pew, 72% of us, three out of four, have an unfavorable view of Congress. 

When one looks at the 535 voting members of Congress, split almost in half across a partisan divide, it’s easy to fall into an uneasy funk about the future.

Taking a long view of the past is helpful if you want to maintain some emotional stability and feel slightly better about the possibility that things are not only not so bad but might get better given another millennia or two.

What they didn’t teach me in History classes when I went to school was that our nation almost split in two several times during those decades leading up to the Civil War. The number one divisive issue was slavery, followed closely by the growing influence of the federal government over money, military, and business. I recently read a biography of Henry Clay Sr., a famous and big-time player on the national political scene in the first half of the 19th century. 

Clay was first elected to the House of Representatives by his Kentucky constituents in 1810. He went on to serve as Speaker of the House a couple of times, Senator from Kentucky, the ninth Secretary of State, and unsuccessful five-time candidate for President from two different parties.

A dynamic speaker and brilliant political strategist, Clay was front and center in keeping the fledgling union together. He inspired crowds of supporters wherever he traveled. And he inspired a vocal and sizable opposition that accused him of corruption, disloyalty, and treason. 

The hatred and abuse caused by political disagreement in Clay’s time make the last ten years of our politics seem quaint—no dueling after all.

Quaint but no less troubling. 

Yet, reading and understanding history does help calm my frazzled nerves when I read the news.