Sorting out the past can be difficult, but gaining a proper perspective on the present is next to impossible. Maybe that’s because the past makes fewer immediate demands. It usually waits for us to go looking for it.
The present is far less reticent. It grabs us by the lapels and forces us to take notice, leaving little opportunity to consider what preceded it or what might come after. For example, when movers, shakers, and opinion makers talk about the “fiscal cliff” or “unsustainable levels of debt,” it’s easy to forget that federal spending and the level of federal debt have been sources of controversy for more than 200 years. In fact, many of the “crises” that now absorb our attention are variations on longstanding themes.
This issue of The Ledger looks at three current narratives and traces some of the threads that connect them to the past:
Each of the three has strong economic overtones, and all have been very much in the news as of late, but they are not new concerns. Americans have been grappling with them, in one form or another, for generations.
That’s not to say everything is the same as it always was. Each generation alters the narrative to a certain extent. But the inherent themes and tensions have changed remarkably little in 200-plus years, and in all probability they will be part of our national conversation for years to come.
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Note: We are trying something a little different in this issue. Since The Ledger is now all-electronic, and because many people seem less inclined to read lots of on-screen text, we decided to let images carry much of the story this time. Many of the images are from the digital archives of the Library of Congress, which is a genuine treasure trove of photos and prints. If ever you need to be reassured that public institutions are deserving of your support, visit the Library of Congress web site: http://www.loc.gov
Robert Jabaily, Editor
Content: Robert Jabaily
Digital Strategy and Design: Tom DeCoff, David DeSouza, and Barbara St. Louis