"Hope is dope," wrote humorist Ogden Nash in one of the shortest poems in the English language. But hope is about all that we Americans can count on as we approach the inauguration of a new president. It seems to be all that we have.
The problems we face are enormous: an economic crisis that is looking more and more like the Great Depression of 1929 and the 1930s; increasing conflict in the Middle East; political corruption, scandal, greed, and self-serving on a mind-boggling scale among our political and economic leaders. It all is throwing a pall of despair over the nation.
People are losing their jobs and their homes. The cost of food and health care skyrockets as our incomes decline. Nest eggs are plummeting in value and in some cases disappearing completely. It's possible that hope is dope, but right now hope is the only thing we have.
President-elect Barack Obama has offered us hope, and the citizenry cling to it desperately as to a life preserver. Our business and finance leaders seem out of touch with reality. The current government is trying some desperation solutions to stem the economic fall and so far none seem to be working.
Will Obama be able to do what current leadership can't? No one knows, and one can't blame those who are skeptical. We all ought to be a little skeptical. But one thing he offered us on the campaign trail was hope.
"Yes we can" was the creed that millions of Americans adopted, almost as a religion, and that carried Obama to the White House. False hope? Who knows? But millions of people are convinced no one has offered anything better.
Hope is at the heart of our Western religious systems. The saying that "faith can move mountains" is a paraphrase of the words of Jesus. Hope enabled a shepherd named Moses to lead a slave people to freedom from the most powerful nation of their day? Hope has sustained that same Jewish people through ghetto, inquisition, and holocaust.
Hope brought the Pilgrims across a vast ocean to a land filled with dangers and hardships. Hope brought penniless and prospect-less immigrant families to these shores in the 1800s. These people were the forebears of many of us.
People who do the seeming impossible are people who refuse to believe what society around them tells them: that the goal they want to accomplish is impossible.
Thomas Edison went through hundreds of failed experiments before he came up with the incandescent light bulb. Franklin Roosevelt stirred a nation when he said, "We have nothing to fear but fear itself," and we survived the Great Depression and mobilized in unprecedented speed for World War II.
Today Barack Obama tells us that "Yes we can," and we want so much to believe that is true. We stand on tiptoe to see what the will power of hundreds of millions of people can produce, and whether this "skinny black man with the funny name from the south side of Chicago" can lead us.
We desperately hope so.