Feeling grateful despite ‘tumultuous’ election

We have just gone through what many consider to be the most tumultuous presidential election in American history. While there are certainly some characteristics that seem unprecedented (FBI investigations, private email servers, comments about judges), a deeper look into presidential politics reveals that the 1828 campaign featured Adams supporters jeering that Andrew Jackson’s deceased mother was a “common prostitute” and Jackson supporters claiming Adams was guilty of “pimping” for Czar Alexander I. While these disturbing details do not make the sting of the 2016 election disappear, they point to a larger truth: We’ve come a long way, and ignoring history makes one bitter and also less grateful.

Stepping away from the Presidential election, let’s consider the common lamentations of millennials: Wi-Fi is down, income inequality is rampant, college is too expensive and only the well-to-do have opportunities for social advancement. I’ll admit that millennials have a knack for identifying problems but lack the historical awareness and humility necessary to properly address them.

Since the beginning of the 21st century, America has gone from clunky Nokia phones to 4G speeds for Instagram. While this rate of innovation may seem commonplace for us, bear in mind that the computer revolution took place over three decades and only the fairly wealthy could afford PCs 15 years into the movement. Nearly everyone with disposable income today owns a cellphone, if not an iPhone. Ignorance of how far Silicon Valley has come can cause a procrastinating 20-year-old to grumble about Snapchat speeds, not realizing that most humans throughout history have traveled days to deliver a single letter.

Income inequality was a hotbed of debate this election cycle. While automation and globalization are certainly scary for the unskilled and those unwilling to move for new work, free trade has lifted one billion people out of subsistence poverty. Almost every economist on the Left and the Right admits that free trade is a net positive for wealth creation and national security. Hear me out: The country has done very little for displaced workers, and foreign labor standards must improve, but the global supply chain is here to stay.

And we should be grateful! Those who are worried about the future often underestimate their personal comparative advantage. Income inequality can only be solved through creativity, and gratitude for the safety net in the first place can steer us away from economic illiteracy. College is too expensive, but the medicine my friends on the Left propose would be much worse than the current ailment. The elephant in the room that drives up cost is not tenured professors but the growing administrative state and “centers” that run well-meaning but bloated programs. College tuition has risen much faster than inflation, yes, but not for the reasons that many suggest. Perhaps gratitude for the opportunity (not the right) to attend college would cause some to critically examine how the government subsidies are being spent.

Lastly, I want to touch on the lack of opportunity. While many beat around the bush and refuse to acknowledge the breakdown of the American family, millions of children in poor, urban centers are being left behind. Nevertheless, the internet has created opportunities for nearly every occupation. It has been the greatest disintermediation in the history of the world, I would argue, toppling middlemen who previously created self-interested barriers to entry. Are you an aspiring journalist? Create a free WordPress site. Interested in Physics? Take advantage of Khan Academy videos. Want to reach out in order to entrepreneur? Simply tweet! The modern world is chock-full of opportunities for enterprising self-starters. If you are really committed to providing opportunity, start with good families and internet access.

Gratitude can only begin with awareness that this period in history is the most affluent and leisure-filled. I am not suggesting that overflowing gratitude soften into idleness; Aristotle told us the Golden Mean is always situated between two extreme vices. But I would simply ask my fellow classmates and those disappointed by this past election to be cognizant of just how good we have it. A dose of gratitude can lead to better solutions for solving the issues millennials care so much about. America is not perfect, but its problems inspire envy to most of the world. Let us ponder the meaning of Thanksgiving more deeply and thereby commit ourselves to form the more perfect Union we all desire.