When recently asked what “big things” I feel optimistic about, says Megan McArdle in The Washington Post, I replied: American democracy. This might seem counterintuitive. Conservatives are worried about the anti-democratic “deep state” and the “ideological capture” of government institutions by the woke left. Liberals fret about Donald Trump, and the Supreme Court “rolling back decades of progress”. But no matter how bad you think things are, “you can find worse in American history”: centuries of slavery; another hundred years of anti-black Jim Crow laws; the persecution of Native Americans; the Red Scare. US democracy has recovered from all this, from “anarchist bombs and urban crime waves” and any number of wild presidential schemes.
We need to keep the “dialed-up-to-11 online rhetoric” in perspective. In the 1930s, the sociologist Richard LaPiere toured hundreds of restaurants and hotels across the US with a Chinese couple in tow. Just one establishment refused them service. Yet when he followed up with a questionnaire, asking whether the businesses would accept “members of the Chinese race”, more than 90% of respondents said they would not. People are all too ready to “confess an abstract hatred they’d never act on with an actual human being in front of them”. If you look at how Americans deal with each other day to day, rather than on what they say online, you realise the country “is better than it thinks itself. And I dare to believe that, in the future, it will be better still.”