Bob Schwartz

What is the State of the Union? All kinds of opinions bristling and bustling around! I've been mulling over mine a long time. The national debate has never been so heated and so contentious.

Yes, there seems to be at least two major possibilities of a future facing us — a Tale of Two Futures. The president and supporters feel we are surging ever upward and onward. Others see a different future looming, a future of continued hostilities and a massive erosion of rights, morality and the economic standing of the poor. Their degradation and despair might lead us into a reenactment of the French Revolution. "If they have no computers, let them use carrier pigeons!"

Why might such disorder happen in our own land and in our own time? This might happen: 1) if the stock market collapsed, either by accident or by design (lookie what it's doing currently even in good times!); 2) the powerful and the well-positioned act early to reap the benefits of the present prosperity; 3) a voice cries in the wilderness: Follow me! I have the answers. Let me be your leader (in German — Fuehrer); 4) the powerful and the well-positioned, having done rather well with recent and future tax breaks, use that and their present storehouse of wealth, not to reinvest in our economy but to invest in politics, backing that voice in the wilderness to consolidate power; 5) the ever-growing huge corporations continue to swallow up the floundering smaller ones, gaining full control over various important segments of the economy; 6) a prime goal would be the takeover of the press (see how the small, independent papers are being swallowed up; 7) the struggling masses become dependent on a government dole, learning to be satisfied with anything they might get. They'd be distracted and entertained by television and be content to do their shopping in Dollar Stores.

What kind of system would this be? Nothing new. It used to be called National Socialism by the Nazis, government for and by the big corporations. The masses get molded and remolded to fit into the needs of the corporations. Deutschland Ueber Alles! here would mean America First! Back in old Germany, they had the Jews to unify against, their enemy in their midst. We already have the immigrants. Watch out! They're all rapists and robbers and murderers.

Thank God (literally) this is not inevitable. But the dangers will not go away by denying them or trying to wish them away. It'll take an alert, active citizenry, standing guard. With the stock market we don't panic; we keep current on the news of the community, the city, the state, the nation and the world. We need to fight off the weariness of it all that would cause us to avoid anything discouraging and ugly. We vote in the elections, knowing the issues and the candidates (and we don't wait for the perfect candidate, who matches us exactly. See how imperfect we all are. In a restaurant, we don't leave because our favorite food is not on the menu. We choose the best we can.)

But the plot thickens! Is there a Russian influence in all this? Is Putin looking for a buddy here? Some previous tax returns from Trump might shed some light on all this. For the moment, were there to Russian influence, what would it seek to accomplish? 1) to have America free-floating, adrift from former friends and allies; 2) an America tearing itself apart; 3) a nation pried away from its ideals and traditions with a leader, who is the symbol of it all (how many wives does it take to make a leader great again, how many women groped, how crude can one get? 4) a society awash with fake news; 5) a government where the opposition is to be silenced and the hostility so heated that the idealistic, the sensitive and the responsible instinctively shy away from government. Even just half of the above would bring joy to the Russians.

So again, what do we do? We keep informed; we vote; we get involved, all of us; we research out the truth in the swamp of lies and fakery; we talk it up with each other. We talk it up especially with those with whom we disagree without getting disagreeable. This is the hardest part of the assignment. One of the most serious of modern tragedies is the death of dialogue and discussion.

So the question is still before us: What kind of future awaits us? Will the pursuit of happiness be opened to all or just to the few that never will be able to find happiness in their pursuit? Will we allow our future to be Trumped? Support for the president, though fervent, is remarkably low. Will our future get directed by an ill-informed Tweet or by a well-informed population?

As a believer in God, I know the future is not in our hands alone. The Bible is rich in the stories of transformed people, even leaders. May it be in our next State of the Union message that we hear well-measured words, edifying us and the world how truly great America is again.

Bob Schwartz of Bakersfield was born in New York City but has spent most of his life in California serving as a pastor. In retirement, he has traveled widely and lived five years in Germany.