The holidays are not always the best of times. For some, they can be among the worst of times: painful reminders of familial discord, a cause of significant financial stress, an even more pointed reminder of the relentless commercialism with which we all are inundated. It seems like there is an additional malaise lingering over the season this year, and indeed it has been a difficult autumn here and abroad, from the Laquan McDonald outrage to the attacks in Paris and Lebanon and and the surge of reactionary xenophobia and nationalism to the constant stream of mass shootings to Donald Trump, feeling beaten down is only too normal.
When we are constantly being bombarded by how terrible the world is, it is easy to overlook the bright spots. This post is dedicated to some of the things in the world worth celebrating.
United States diplomatic relations: The past year-plus has seen a series of stunning diplomatic achievements for the United States; we have re-opened diplomatic relations with Cuba, we have, together with several other countries, successfully negotiated a nuclear treaty with Iran, signed a climate pact with China and even successfully coordinated with Russia on both the Iran treaty and attacks on the fight against ISIL in the Middle East. There is more to do—there is always more to do—but American diplomatic successes and the notion that we are willing to engage even with those with whom we have disagreements in order to achieve a greater good reveals a refreshing subtlety in American foreign policy.
The triumph of democracy: The moral arc of the universe has continued its slow bend towards justice in in Myanmar and Venezuela, in which voters have recently ousted repressive and authoritarian regimes. Even more impressively, the defeated parties in both nations, not known as bastions of free and fair elections have acquiesced to the results. In long-repressed Myanmar, national hero and Nobel Prize winner Aun Sang Suu Kyi finally got the chance to run for the presidency after decades of house arrest and marginalization. Voters responded, overwhelmingly electing her and her party to the presidency. The army, which runs the country currently, has thusfar cooperated, offering hope that the result may stand. Meanwhile, Venezuelans, sick of their failing economy, deteriorating standard of living, and the corruption of the ruling party, recently elected the opposition party to a supermajority in their parliament, giving it a chance to hold a referendum to oust the incompetent Nicolas Maduro, the current president. Though Maduro still retains power, he has accepted the election results as fair. In both countries there is much left to be done, but these results offer hope to places which were bereft of it.
The climate deal: Regardless of whether you believe humans are causing it or not, one thing is certain: the planet is warming and there will be dire consequences for humankind if the trend continues. To that end, the climate deal signed by 195 countries in Paris recently is an important step in the right direction. The scientific consensus is that temperatures cannot rise by over 2 degrees Celsius; the Paris agreement aims to halt the rise to 1.5 degrees. Forests are critical to the earth’s continued habitability because of the oxygen they provide in offsetting human activity; the pact incentivizes the preservation of existing forests. Rich countries have been the primary beneficiaries of the industrialization which has contributed to climate change; the Paris agreement acknowledges the responsibility of those countries to contribute extra to the efforts to combat rising global temperatures. There will also be five year check-ups by all countries in the agreement to gauge the effectiveness of the regulations. This plan does not go far enough, but it goes farther than anything ever has in addressing one of the most important challenges of our era.
J.R.R. Tolkien, in perhaps my favorite quote in all of Lord of the Rings, says: “The world is filled with darkness, but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.” I am currently in school to get a Masters of Public Administration at the University of Washington. I am doing this because I believe fervently that, amidst all the darkness and grief and horrors of this world, there is good that is worth fighting for. When you feel the desire to disengage, please remember that. Give the world at least one more try.
After working in Washington, D.C., for two years, Andrew Orlebeke (’10) is in graduate school in Seattle, Washington, studying public policy. In addition to public service, he has a passion for traveling and an abiding love of sports.