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The first decade of the new century began with so much hope, so much optimism, so much good fortune.
Jan. 1, 2000 dawned with a healthy economy, relative peace in the world and a bright future on the horizon.
The peace ended 22 months and 11 days later when terrorists seized control of four airliners, crashing two into the World Trade Center twin towers and one into the Pentagon. The fourth, headed for either the White House or the Capitol in Washington, hurtled into the ground at high speed after passengers stormed the cockpit.
Wars followed in Afghanistan and Iraq and both continue as the decade ended. More Americans have died in those conflicts than on that bloody day on Sept. 11, 2001 while the mastermind of that attack remains at large.
George W. Bush gained the presidency not at the ballot box but through a painful legal battle that ended at the Supreme Court more than a month after the election. He lost the popular vote, won in the court but remains forever a President who lost in the court of public opinion.
Many feel Osama bin Laden’s goal was to destroy the American way of life. If so, he won that battle with the help of a despotic President and a willing Congress where Republicans and Democrats joined together to strip away American freedoms with the USA Patriot Act and creation of the Department of Homeland Security, a monolithic bureaucracy that fails to provide either security or freedom to the nation it fails to serve.
Bush left office eight years later as one of the most unpopular Presidents in American history. He left behind a nation mired in war, saddled with debt and staggering under the weight of a sick economy.
Barack Obama rode onto the political scene as a symbol of a new America, a black man who could become a nation’s white knight, offering the rhetoric of hope to a country willing to take a chance on an unproven leader. But hope quickly turned to despair as the new President found governing more difficult than campaigning and rhetoric difficult to reconcile with reality.
Some say Obama, in time, will prove to be a great President but he ends the decade with promises of true health care reform unfilled while willing to sign a bill written by the very lobbyists he promised to purge from control of our government. With wars still raging, the economy still faltering, unemployment in double digits and the deficit on a seemingly unstoppable rise to even more record heights Obama and the moribund Democratic leadership of Congress face the next decade of the new century with a skeptical public and waning support from angry voters who turned over the keys to government and now feel betrayed.
Yet a poll released on New Year’s Eve shows Americans believe 2010 will be better even as they acknowledge that their finances will get worse and their problems will increase.
Somehow, even in the face of the worst recession since the Great Depression, even with wars with no real end in sight and even with an unsafe nation where strip searches and body scanners cannot stop a lone fanatic from bringing explosives onto a plane, Americans have hope for the future.
That is our nature, our way and our salvation. America the beautiful may have grey hair, wrinkles and stretch marks but she is till sweetheart of our youth, our lifelong love and the woman we go home to at night.
Like all life-long affairs, we sometimes question the wisdom of the relationship but — in the end — America is the one we love.
‘Til death does us part.