Looking For Omens

My husband frequently tells me that my posts to this blog are “downers.” Of course he’s right–but in my defense, any age that includes the election of someone like Donald Trump (no matter how accidental or non-reflective of the majority’s choice) is a “downer” age.

The question we face–as Americans, as humans–is: how do we make things better? ( I should stipulate that I mean my version of “better”– not David Duke’s or Pat Robertson’s or the other “Make America Great” supporters of our demented President. My version is a kinder, less hateful, more equal society.)

It is a truism that lasting social change ultimately depends upon widespread cultural shifts. Laws prohibiting discrimination are important, for example, not because they effect overnight change, but because they begin the much slower process of changing people’s attitudes about what is acceptable behavior. (As anyone with eyes can see, that process is still very incomplete.)

The MeToo# movement would have been incomprehensible to my mother’s generation, and is somewhat startling to mine; only after millions of women entered the workforce (a phenomenon that was only possible when reliable birth control allowed us to manage our reproduction) did the overall culture begin to shrug off retrograde beliefs about gender roles–beliefs mostly rooted in religion– and begin to understand the importance and nature of gender equality.

As Kurt Vonnegut would say–and so it goes.

I’m currently doing research for a book (tentative title: Governing the Brave New World), and I am seeing emerging signs of positive culture change/paradigm shift. Some examples are broad acceptance of same-sex marriage, even among younger Evangelicals; growing recognition by businesses that they have responsibilities to employees, customers and their communities as well as their shareholders; men’s endorsement of movements like #metoo and white support for #blacklives matter; rising levels of civic engagement; and diminishing religious fundamentalism.

Much of this is still tentative. Much of it is triggering furious backlash. But it’s there.

There are theories about generational change that suggest political shifts occur every 40 years or so. I have no idea whether the “bright spots” I see are part of this relatively reliable turn toward a reasonable politics or a harbinger of something larger.

What evidence is there for (cautious) optimism?

I often think of a poem my mother (a definite pessimist) would recite: “Twixt optimist and pessimist, the difference is droll. The optimist sees the doughnut, the pessimist, the hole.”

I realize that some regular commenters on this blog are predisposed to see only the hole. (If I saw the world the way Todd evidently does, for example, I’d kill myself.) A number of the people who comment on this site, however, see both the doughnut and the hole, and I’m directing this question primarily to them–although I welcome a response from anyone who wants to weigh in.

What are the omens of positive culture change that you see? What are the indications that America is emerging from the past quarter-century or so of the “me, myself and I” attitudes that have made phrases like “public service” an oxymoron and caused people to sneer at the very idea of the common good? (If at all possible, provide sources for those sightings.)

What are the “uppers” that you see? Inquiring minds want to know!


  1. Are you assuming that the political shifts that occur every 40 or so years are positive shifts? Couldn’t we be witnessing a massive decline in our collective political senseabilities? How’s that for a downer?

  2. I see the recent influx of young women (many women of color) into politics, local and national, as a positive development. The current generation of 20-somethings are very engaged in social issues and I believe they will become a powerful political force (at least I hope so!)

  3. What’s the expression, “Ignorance is bliss.”?

    As humans, we are pleasure seekers and pain avoiders. Denial is a convenient tool for obvious reasons. Anyway, enough defending my Ego. 😉

    There are plenty of positive signs everywhere…I see them mostly on Twitter where journalists and thought leaders are out on the front lines worldwide seeing the changes taking place. And many see the USA as the largest impediment to positive change.

    Once again, I always saw Trump as a great beacon for change because of his blatant ignorance and his ability to market that stubidity. The media just amplifies it.

    A Fox News host actually condemned tear gassing women and children at our borders.

    The Guardian just got slammed for running a blatantly false piece about Manafort and Assange which hasn’t even begun trickling down.

    A growing contingency of advocates against the yellow journalism we see in the Western World is a major sign the communication networks are adjusting and the message will be truthful versus the propaganda we see daily on television.

    We can’t make informed decisions if we have faulty information. There were several attacks yesterday on Mississippi for lagging the country on all measures of social progress while electing a blatant racist senator. The dots are being connected.

    By the way, Indiana isn’t far behind Mississippi so be prepared for interesting assessments of red states. Once again, the curtains are being pulled back and folks are not liking what they see but we’ve been in the DARK for 30 years.

    At least 30 years!

    One other note of interest…as communication changes rapidly, guess what else young energetic minds are starting to question?

    Why does our communication networks have so many monopolies yet work so closely with our government?

    The optimist will see the silver lining of GM moving toward electric and self driving cars to support the demand of our younger generation who live in cities and use mass transit vs buying an automobile. The realist or pragmisist will ask what our government and GM plan to do with thousands of displaced workers with specialized skills. The answer the past 30 years has been training workers for service related jobs which pay menial wages.

    There are outer and inner bands of changes taking place but they’re not being televised on MSNBC. 😉

  4. A documentary of President Lyndon Johnson showed how politics was played in stealing elections. It showed him as a conservative who played both sides of the aisle but got things done. What concerns me the most is the polarized state of politics and the engagement of haters whether comments are made by Pres. Trump or Con. Waters.
    The middle class is taking a huge hit financially and while we bail out corporations they are cutting jobs. Even though 400k new manufacturing jobs have been created, both sides of the aisle need to rally behind the economic upturn for the sake of the middle class.

  5. The “upper”–increased political awareness and engagement! (For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction….not sure this is precisely what Newton had in mind, but….it fits!)

  6. “It is a truism that lasting social change ultimately depends upon widespread cultural shifts.”

    IF the above statement is true; considering the acceptance and/or cover up of sexual abuse, harassment and attacks by Trump and his evangelical base as being a cultural shift, that would explain the posts I have been receiving for months. On AOL there are frequent “news” items, pictures and/or videos of celebrity women in near nude or see-through apparel as being acceptable. This “cultural shift” would also explain the countless E-mail ads I have been receiving, mixed in with the countless political requests for donations, for promised cures for erectile dysfunction, “men you can stay hard 2.5 hours in bed” and “men you can be hard enough to make her hurt”, that I continue trying to “unsubscribe” to. Can these be considered dog-whistles against the #metoo movement? I am as far from being a prude as Trump is from being an honest person; but these are offensive and there seems to be no way to end them. Maybe the 2020 presidential election will return the Internet a tasteful source of information.

    “religious fundamentalism” is not found in the Constitution and was not found in our laws until the past decade or so (especially the past 2 YEARS). Speaking of “political shifts”; for almost one-half of a century, administration after administration after administration has ignored, overlooked or refused to admit there is a serious escalating problem regarding immigration in this country. This inaction has brought us to Trump threatening to shut down the entire government (again) if he doesn’t get the funds to build his wall along our southern border. This shutdown would come before religious holiday celebrations of a number of religions and could continue into the new year when the newly elected Democratic majority is due to be sworn into our currently inactive Congress.

    “Some examples are broad acceptance of same-sex marriage, even among younger Evangelicals; growing recognition by businesses that they have responsibilities to employees, customers and their communities as well as their shareholders; men’s endorsement of movements like #metoo and white support for #blacklives matter; rising levels of civic engagement; and diminishing religious fundamentalism.”

    Aren’t these “emerging signs of positive culture change/paradigm shift” Sheila refers to our basic civil and human rights as protected by the Constitution and SOME of the Amendments?

    “What are the “uppers” that you see? Inquiring minds want to know!”

    Well; IF I understand the political picture being reported this morning (and I could easily be wrong), the fact that so many of Trump’s administration and former administration, campaign leader’s and support’s lawyers who needed lawyers of their own. those lawyers are now appearing to need lawyers. IF I understand today’s chaotic ramblings and Tweets from On High. Sorry I couldn’t come up with any “uppers”.

  7. I hope I am not duplicating this. First try did NOT go through.

    I find hope in the young people who have the strength and courage to live genuine lives — To be who they are in a country that is not always accepting. Adam Rippon, Olympic skater is such a person. He did a “Not to self” on CBS News this month. Please watch Adam


  8. Ditto, Pat. The young people from Parkland who have mobilized on gun control brought me joy and hope for the future.

  9. Professor Kennedy, Sheila, I’ve been reading you for years. You are the start to my day, everyday. I’ve never commented before, but today you so aptly wrote my thoughts that I feel compelled.

    Bear with me: I firmly believe the US losing power in the world is a good thing. I’ve said since GW Bush’s administration that the US is the modern Roman Empire and we will fall or be taken down. As our current administration removes our world standing, the rest of the world is losing a strong ally but also threat. I believe us standing down on the world stage will be better for us in the long-term.

    Another positive, albeit small, change is from my Idiot Brother (affectionately known as IB). He is a gun “enthusiast” and a staunch Trump supporter. However, he’s also a convicted felon. What Florida accomplished in this recent election has him confused and that’s a good thing. He’s gone from accepting his disenfranchisement to believing he can and should be re-enfranchised. This is softening his positions on many issues. T supporters won’t suddenly wake up and join the gentler version of the country, it will happen 1 small step at a time.

    Finally, the number of females and people of color elected to office in 2018 makes me feel a positive direction for our world is coming. The next tier of candidates who set record turnouts but missed the mark shows there’s more positives ready. As we diversify our leadership, we will behave more democratically and fairly. This is the beginning of changes that are long-over due! And if we had managed to shift the House and Senate in these mid-terms that would have been politics as usual. But anything worth having is worth working for. And the effort will keep us engaged rather than allowing us to go back to sleep while the country is on auto-pilot.

    Also, in defense of Todd, I doubt he’s as pessimistic as he seems. I believe he’s using your comments section to advance his own agenda and often makes statements that are over the top, but not necessarily in line with his true opinions.

    Thank you for everything you do, Sheila! You’ve inspired me to improve my own historical and civic literacy and to share that information as far as I can. You are a true patriot and leader, whom I greatly admire.

  10. I see life and optimism in my grandchildren’s eyes and actions. I’m willing to bet that 65 years ago my grandfather saw the same thing in his grandchildren. We were created to be overcomers…..problems and issues are, and always have been, opportunities to grow. Watch children and be encouraged…not the idiot narcicist.

  11. JoAnn —
    Please consider getting a Google email account. No nude women or erectile ads (unless you want these), etc. AOL is outdated and not very efficient.

    I find the young people like Emma Gonzales inspiring. When high school students lead a national campaign against gun violence and remain true to their cause — well that’s inspiring.

    Also, the record number of women, POC and LGBT people elected during the mid-terms means things are looking up.

    I love the wisdom found in the Hopi prayer, a part of which I have included here:

    “This could be a good time! There is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid. They will try to hold on to the shore. They will feel they are being torn apart and will suffer greatly. Know the river has its destination. The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above the water.

    And I say, see who is in there with you and celebrate. At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally, least of all ourselves. For the moment that we do, our spiritual growth and journey come to a halt.

    The time of the one wolf is over. Gather yourselves! Banish the word ’struggle’ from your attitude and your vocabulary. All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.

    We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. ”


  12. I see hope for the future in the young people of Parkland.

    I wish more young people were avid readers.

  13. My limited view of the world only affords me a glance at some little changes for the better. I note that there are no longer Trump bumper stickers on the cars at the Kroger parking lot. Nor do I see people walking around inside that store carrying sidearms. Another sign for the better is how my neighbors have banded together to keep our little block free of crime – no organization, just a willingness to call the police and get involved by sharing with each other what they saw or heard. Then there are the two relatives who voted for and supported Trump who now sing a different tune with lyrics that include the word impeachment.
    Looking outside of my world I see a renewed interest and a questioning of the basics of our lives: government, the Constitution, religion, fairness, economics, and what is right and what is wrong. Questioning is good I believe. It often “starts” things to happen, and some of those things go on to really change things for the better.

  14. I see women mobilized in ways I have never seen before, in politics and business. People like Poonan Gill, Dee Thornton, Carey Hamilton, Dr. Ford, Michelle Obama, Camilla Harris, Rabbi Sasso, Professor Kennedy, Julia Vaughn, Rhea Cain, Oprah, Ellen, PP of Kentucky and Indiana staff, the parents of Sandy Hook, Parkland survivors, teachers all over the country, and many others have become articulaters of our conditions with courage, commitment and sacrifice. I wasn’t there, but I imagine the suffragettes were just as courageous and committed in their time. Heaven knows they sacrificed.

    When I see young men joining women in their drive for the protections of all, it gives me hope for the future. People like Jesse Kharbanda and his staff at Hoosier Environmental Council, KIBI and its young dedicated staff, the dedicated and brave young people in Black Lives Matter, LGBT+ young people who show up and speak with so much courage and honesty, all the people who have joined the Jewish community in solidarity against the hatred and bigotry so often hidden and now blatantly vandalizing synagogues are my hope and inspiration.

    We can never know the hearts and minds of everyone in our live, but I have lived long enough to recognize that evil only triumps when good people are quiet and complacent. The young have the energy and idealism to push the older and more cynical of us to get involved, take action, speak up and push back. It is happening, slowly but surely.

    I have to include the fact the State Senator John Ruckleshaus (R) and Representatives Carey Hamilton (D) and Ed Delaney (D) who hold town halls together on a regular basis have given me real hope and inspiration. They are bucking the trend of polarization, providing real and meanful interaction with citizens regardless of party affiliation. We could use a lot more of them.

  15. Kathy; I have been on AOL since 1999, if I could safely transfer my E-mail Address Book and Favorite Places where my business, medical, family and friend obits, government documents, Facebook and posts and this blog are stored, I would gladly change.

  16. Old people are dying off and better people are replacing them. Change is never fast enough for those of us who yearn for it. Every lifetime is disappointing in that regard. But better people are replacing them, just as they always have.

  17. Over it beat me to it. The most optimistic cultural change underway is that our generation is dying off. We lived through a monumental rate of change in technology, a social revolution driven by a change from a sustainable population to what probably is not, and now we are at the brink of an energy revolution unfortunately accompanyied by an iimposed change to an unprecedented climate that we must adapt our civilization to. All this on top of what Sheila mentioned, a gender revolution and what I mention constantly a revolution in entertainment media.

    Our generation is worn out from change and in need of replacement in the marketplaces of life.

    All around us people are building warehouses for old folks and taking business advantage of the fact that ours might well be the last generation that can afford them.

    Future generations will have struggles at least as tough as ours,, probably tougher, and will, like we, get worn down in the process but will overcome and then die. But I feel will learn way beyond what life taught us resilience. Bend but don’t break. Adapt. Survive. Plan for reality instead of resisting it.

    I wish I could observe it.

  18. The more people, the higher the frenetic frequency. The more people the more easily to confuse the crowd. However the crowd responds in strange ways – there is no cycle to this one we are now in an age of social frequency approaching a screaming pace. Now either this will peak soon and we will see just as precipitous a drop in the frequency of this chaos as brought it to be. Or we adapt and catch the rats in their own trap, and change this nations social frequency – or we fail. What so pessimistic about that? I mean we could just all die out!… flip a coin. ya know. Grab your Bloody Mary mix, a comfy chair or chaise-lounger and watch the Chirstmas Circus at the White House season through the 29th of January: then we can think about breaking the glass on the panic box… ~8) Smile – it could be worse: So – I smiled – and damned if it didn’t get worse!!!

  19. Looking For Omens. Our ancestors looked to the skies for Omens. Just this past week there was a stunning achievement by NASA. (InSight) lander successfully touched down on the Red Planet after an almost seven-month, 300-million-mile (458-million-kilometer) journey from Earth.

    I read somewhere, the mission was described as shooting a basketball out of a cannon in LA and hitting nothing but net in NYC. – How do we work together to achieve a goal?? With, thousands of dedicated employees using the best traits in humanity: innovation, and cooperation.

    Sadly, this success was overlooked by our McMega-Media, except for a few sound bytes. I do not recall any congratulatory messages from President Agent Orange or members of Congress to NASA.

    I regularly read Science Daily, the examples of how science is being put to use to discover is amazing all over the world. https://www.sciencedaily.com/

    For instance: A major international collaboration headed by researchers from the Danish iPSYCH project, the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT, Massachusetts General Hospital, SUNY Upstate Medical University, and the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium has for the first time identified genetic variants which increase the risk of ADHD. The new findings provide a completely new insight into the biology behind ADHD.

    The study found a positive correlation between ADHD and obesity, increased BMI and type-2 diabetes, which is to say that variants that increase the risk of ADHD also increase the risk of overweight and type-2 diabetes in the population.
    We have unfortunately decided here in America that the Defense Department deserves billions of dollars each year to upgrade and expand our ability to destroy life. How many Nukes do we need???

  20. Over It! Do you mean that old people are of no value? Hell, I read the comments on this site every day and even learn things. And I am an 89 year old Democrat Party supporter. 🙂

  21. Irvin; thank you…being 81 years old, I was insulted by Over It’s comment. I do see some intelligent, hard working to make things right young people but we seniors…and beyond…are NOT down for the count yet. With age, comes wisdom.

  22. The”upper” that I have been concentrating on: is the past and present activities of our”political Santa Claus” Donald Trump. The racist, theocratic movement, which the Bush Family and the Koch Family have directed for over fifty years, is being obliterated from the actions and in-actions by the “hijacking” sociopath who has been our President for only two years.

    Consequently, the corporate oligarchy will have to come up with someone else, who will do their “dirty work” for them, so “we better watch out” and “we better not shout” too early, if we know what is good for us.

  23. Reasons for hope:

    1. America is re-thinking its love for football, a game many of us admire but one that has become too dangerous to continue in its present form. Rule changes seem to be helping.
    2. Despite the games Mitch the Bitch is playing, prison and sentencing reform, with some nods to fairness, seems to have traction in the Senate. And our Idiot in Chief may do the first thing I’ve approved of in his administration by signing it.
    3. America has actually spoken out – albeit not very vociferously – about a human rights abuse. As China eats our lunch economically, it makes us look like world-class liberals in comparison to its treatment of millions of Uighurs in Xinjiang Province. Sadly, Trump would like to re-balance that comparison via his sadistic treatment of immigrants.
    4. Women in Pawleys Island and Charleston have shown that it is possible for determination to out-maneuver testosterone. No we are not blue or even purple yet, but a Democrat not in a solidly black district won a seat in the U.S. Congress.
    5. The U.S. Senate wants to stop the war in Yemen. That means they don’t have the stomach for the 14 million starvations that are imminent.
    6. Tribesmen on North Sentinel Island (India) said “no thank you” to a suicidal evangelical who wanted to explain to them how they should live their lives.
    7. Professional reporters, vilified daily by the President of the United States, continue to man the barricades.
    8. Duke’s basketball team may actually be as good as the hype claims.Time and UNC will tell.

  24. Sheila, I read every one of your posts, but this is the first time I have ever added my two cents. I find your posts “uppers” to my days because they let me know I am not alone in my thoughts and views and quite often give me a more thoughtful and kinder perspective than my own. I shall keep reading and will not often comment, but I just wanted to say, “Thank you!”

  25. The U.S. elected a black President in 2008 and the majority of Americans elected a woman President in 2016. I never really thought I’d live to see either.

    So many women marched on the U.S. Capitol and across the nation and the world that they far outnumbered those who attended the presidential inauguration the day before. Many across then nation decided to run for office or become involved in campaigns for the first time with very visible gains in the next elections.

    The House Democratic caucus in the Indiana State Legislature is now comprised of a majority of women for the first time in history. Most state officeholders are women as is the Chief Justice of Indiana’s Supreme Court.

    One hundred women have been elected to the U.S. House of Representatives where a woman is destined to become the Speaker of the House again.

    Female and male educators went on “Red for Ed” strikes in various states to decry and resolve the lack of funding for school buildings, instructional supplies, and teacher salaries. They helped spur a blue wave on election day in their states and beyond.

    The MeToo movement is part of the same wave of women who are awakening to the power they’ve always had but seldom used.

    My father always wanted to see women accorded the positions in public office, in the workplace, in pulpits, in the courts, etc. that he felt they deserved. He had a “Run Hillary Run” bumper sticker on his Hamilton County truck in 1998. I so wish he’d lived long enough to see how far women have come today and feel so fortunate to have had a father who encouraged and promoted women – including those in his own family – as much and as often as men throughout his life.

  26. My first awakening to the fact that we are in the midst of a cultural disruption was in 2009 when I saw the Tea Party protesting President Obama with a sign depicting him with a bone through his nose. For the first time, I understood my father’s anger at the Vietnam protestors. He was a WWII vet. The bigotry was as repulsive to me as my father’s perceived anti-Americanism was to him.

    Knowing that we have political/cultural changes every 40-60 years, I started comparing the late 60s to our current era. At age 21 in 1968, I perceived the radical liberal angst to mean our culture was changing to a much more liberal one. It took a lot of reading for me to realize that 1968 was the year the Democratic Party imploded. Somehow it seems fitting that the year 2018 is the year the Republican Party implosion.

    Sheila, a good book to read is Michael Lind’s Land of Promise. He posits that Economic Disruptions, which are caused by advances in technology, are followed by periods of political and social disruption. The Great Recession of 2008 was our economic disruption which has led to what we are experiencing today. Its not so different that the economic disruptions caused by the invention of the steam engine and later the gas engine and now computerization, social media and artificial intelligence.

  27. “It is a truism that lasting social change ultimately depends upon widespread cultural shifts.”

    Why not say…IT IS TRUE that lasting social change ultimately depends upon widespread cultural shifts?

    Maybe the platitude isn’t true to begin with. If you have lasting CULTURAL SHIFTS, hasn’t SOCIAL CHANGE already occurred? Does either depend on the other? Are they not two terms for the same thing?

  28. This summer I smelled the aroma of a pansy. That’s a positive. After horticulturists bred the aroma out of almost every common flower, maybe someone is beginning to breed aroma back into them.

    Maybe bees will return when flowers once again smell like flowers.

    The trend toward work at home jobs is beginning to make realtors smile in Utah, Wyoming and other sparsely populated areas. Maybe some of the congestion in our big cities will dissipate as city people ride their computer into lives of quiet elbow room.

    The spike in book writing (due to print on demand options) may be a positive — writing anything long is the surest way to be forced to think.

    The trend toward downsizing and mini/compact-homes may indicate a general shift toward downsizing the value of things in our life.

    The mini-trend toward stay-at-home fathers, if it matures, may be a wondrous thing for a whole generation of children somewhere down the road.

    2050 may be the target date for an upswing in human behavior; most of the 1960s me-generation will finally have died. But we will have to wait until 3000, when the 70s, 80s, 90s and millennial generations have turned to dust, to view good movies again, you know, movies that are not created for brain-dead teens — like fright movies, superhero movies, Dracula movies, action movies, gross-out movies, animated movies, sequel and prequel movies.

  29. Funny – the 60s me-generation is the generation that fought and died for civil rights in the south, they marched and protested to end the Vietnam war. Actually, as a Boomer, I should say “we”.

    Hope – Parkland students, the amazingly rapid acceptance of same-sex marriage, not more women in politics (Thatcher was a woman, no thank you) but the excellent progressive women entering politics – add the energy I saw in the Young Democrats at the last state party convention.

    Also, diversity in politics – in the decade of my renewed activism in politics, I have told four wonderful people to call me any time they want to run for any office – two are African-American, two are women and two are LGBT – no straight white males in the four – this is the politics of the future (not to exclude straight white males – I could list many I support)

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