Commentary Magazine asked 41 Americans to respond to this question: "Are you optimistic or pessimistic about America's future?" The responses, including my own, appear in the current issue of Commentary. As we were limited to 500 words, I offer my response here, in edited and longer form.
I am both optimistic and pessimistic regarding America's future.
Here are my reasons for pessimism:
First, the unique American values system — what I call the American Trinity — is under assault. These three values are declared on every American coin: Liberty, "E Pluribus Unum" and "In God We Trust."
The left has declared war on all three. And it is winning. It seeks to replace Liberty with egalitarianism, "E Pluribus Unum" with multiculturalism, and "In God We Trust" with a godless society. America is being transformed — candidate Barack Obama's favorite word for what he sought to do to this country — into a Western European country, the left's model of a great society.
Second, the primary purpose of high schools and colleges — and, increasingly, even elementary schools — has become turning students into leftists.
That's one reason many of those who graduate from America's schools know what the climate will be in 2080 but don't know who Stalin was, let alone who Cain and Abel were. They are proficient at using condoms and at recycling but at little else. They have been taught nothing of American exceptionalism and would likely find the term incomprehensible, if not objectionable. And they would save their dog before a human they didn't know because morality is a matter of feelings, and they feel more for their dog.
Third, the expansion of the state is producing a new American. This American believes in rights more than in obligations and thinks that the state should take care of him, his parents, his children and his neighbors.
Fourth, the melting pot of Americans has been replaced by a patchwork quilt of "Latinos," "African-Americans" and other identity groups, all of whom, moreover, are taught to consider themselves victims of a sexist, racist, intolerant, Islamophobic and xenophobic society.
Fifth, half or more of the Jews and Christians who attend synagogue or church are more likely to be led by a priest, minister or rabbi who sermonizes not about their sins but about America's.
Sixth, civilization's single most important institution — marriage — is increasingly regarded as pointless and is being redefined for the first time in history to include members of the same sex. Why? Because the notions that marriage is sacred and that men and women are intrinsically different — a difference that carries unique significance — are depicted as patriarchal, anachronistic and sexist.
And seventh, most American Jews are on the wrong side of this American divide. They don't understand that an America that abandons its unique values and becomes like other countries will join these other countries in abandoning Israel. And many, incredibly, do not even care.
With regard to the world, there are even more reasons for pessimism.
The Arab Spring is a product of Western liberals' naivete. Russia is gradually resurrecting the Soviet Union. Iran would like to start a Middle East-wide war to annihilate Israel. Europe has lost its identity and its will to survive as a distinct civilization. The welfare state is finally collapsing, and Europeans do not do well with economic hardship. With America's premature withdrawal, Iraq may well lapse into civil war and become a satellite of Iran. China is run by amoral men who hold vast reserves of the West's currencies and who are intent on supplanting America as the world's preeminent economic, political and military power.
So what are the reasons to be optimistic about America?
Many Americans are gaining clarity about the threat posed by leftism to core American values. They understand that the bigger the government, the smaller the citizen; that the death of God leads to the death of objective moral standards; and that the Marine Corps, not the Peace Corps, is the greatest force for world peace.
Many Americans are therefore fighting to reassert the primary American value of small government, the Judeo-Christian values upon which this country was founded and the idea that American exceptionalism is a moral category rather than a chauvinistic one. They're also fighting to reassert the fact that a strong American military is the only guarantor of peace on earth, and they're fighting against the racial and ethnic Balkanization of America.
If these Americans win the next presidential election, I will be optimistic about America.
Unfortunately, however (and I'm sorry for the "however"), at the very moment that the case against leftism would have the most receptive audience in modern American history, the only Republican candidate for president who seems to have a chance of defeating the Democratic president either doesn't perceive the dangers of the left or doesn't care to make the case against them.