Is there a limit to the politics of hope?

Reality lies between hope and fear

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politics of hopeCALGARY, Alta. Jan 28, 2016/ Troy Media/ -— Progressives and conservatives share a perspective of hope, even if each defines hope differently. The differences have never been more telling in politics.

Progressives work to advance society, hoping the future will bring the best that can be imagined. Conservatives seek to protect tradition, hoping the best of the past can be preserved.

This oversimplification’s unifying theme of hope is just the beginning, of course.

Progressives are more inclined to introduce the language of hope over fear into politics. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, one of America’s most progressivist presidents, famously said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Unfortunately, and contrary to F.D.R.’s perspective, there are genuine reasons to fear, particularly in politics. The extent to which progressives have incorporated hope into their political narrative, to the exclusion of fear, raises as many questions as does the conservative tendency to be more fearful than hopeful.

Progressivist hope is bold. But boldness can be positively daring, and even foolhardy and rash. U.S. President Barack Obama, one of the most hope-filled progressive leaders of recent times, famously spoke of “the audacity of hope.”

In his [popup url=”http://amzn.to/1SLYYEG” height=”1000″ width=”1000″ scrollbars=”0″]book[/popup] of the same title, Obama called for “a new politics for a new time.” He said he hoped to inaugurate a form of post-partisan politics, among other things.

How far down this path has Obama been willing to go in his hope for change? During the 2008 presidential election, he [popup url=”http://obamaspeeches.com/E-Barack-Obama-Speech-Manassas-Virgina-Last-Rally-2008-Election.htm” height=”600″ width=”600″ scrollbars=”0″]stated[/popup]:

“One voice can change a room, and if one voice can change a room, then it can change a city, and if it can change a city, it can change a state, and if it can change a state, it can change a nation, and if it can change a nation, it can change the world. Your voice can change the world.”

However, Obama’s own voice has failed to bring about the post-partisan politics he hoped for, despite his powerful rhetoric. He admitted as much in his recent State of the Union Address: “It’s one of the few regrets of my presidency – that the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better.”

The audacity of hope may in fact result in just the opposite. Consider the rise of Donald Trump and the contrary politics of fear. An “[popup url=”http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-obama-trump-dialectic-1449621957″ height=”600″ width=”600″ scrollbars=”0″]Obama-Trump dialectic[/popup]” appears to be at play. Trump’s hope-less fears seem less conceivable without Obama’s fear-less hope.

If, at worst, an overabundance of hope begets its opposite, we must be mindful of the limits to political hope. This is not a matter of cynicism, just realism. In politics, hope too bold can turn to flights of abstraction in which acts of necessity are evaded. It risks being out of touch.

Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party’s campaign greatly raised the hopes of Canadians. After the federal votes were in last October, Trudeau proclaimed that the Liberals “beat fear with hope.” He seems to think hope’s ultimate triumph extends well beyond the campaign and election.

In his audacity, Trudeau runs the risk of repeating Obama’s errors. Canadians are already witnessing a litany of broken promises and dashed hopes.

Trudeau’s disregard for our allies’ concerns and Canadian’s fears regarding ISIS suggest hope is blinding him to the fact that terrorism cannot be defeated through non-military means.

At the World Economic Forum, he professed a hope that major economic and financial players invest in Canada simply on the basis of diversity. The platitudes he offered up in Davos were considered out of touch by many Canadians, including fellow progressives like Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi.

With the emptiness of Trudeau’s unrestrained hope being laid bare, the time is ripe for conservatives to articulate their own narrative of practical hope.

Conservatives must clearly demonstrate to Canadians what the wisdom of experience teaches. They must offer concrete policies, domestic and foreign, based on hope tempered by political reality. As philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville once suggested, “knowing what we may hope for and what we must fear, we will clearly perceive the goal toward which our efforts should be directed.”

Conservatives fear progressivist hope, and progressives hope for a world without fear. Somewhere in the middle is reality.

Troy Media Columnist Trevor Shelley completed his PhD in political science at Louisiana State University. His book, “Liberalism and Globalization,” will be published in 2016 with St. Augustine Press. Trevor is also included in Troy Media’s Unlimited Access subscription plan.

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