One of my perennial e-mail correspondents, who offers a steady stream of negative comments about President Bush, sent me a response to my Nov. 19 column, which discussed Mr. Bush's commitment to democracy. My reader's message ended: "Trying to make the world 'safe for democracy' in World War I didn't work and it won't work now."
That's a pretty dismal outlook, the suggestion that 90 years of effort and sacrifice have all been for naught, and the prospects for democracy in the future don't look much better.
But before I succumb to total despair about the human condition, let me, on Thanksgiving's eve, do my annual stocktaking of pluses and minuses on the national and international scene.
There are, indeed, some minuses since a year ago.
There is no abatement of the terrorism that causes misguided fanatics to indiscriminately murder innocent women, children, and men who, personally, have done them no harm.
There is, if it is possible, a further decline in the civility of our public discourse. I offer, for example, the words of the London Mayor Ken Livingstone, in a country whose citizens are traditionally noted for understatement and good manners. He described Bush as "the greatest threat to life on this planet that we've most probably ever seen." (Worse than Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein?) We can stand some ding-dong debate in national and international politics - but we don't need to descend to this mean and hysterical low.
In Hollywood there was some soul-searching after Sept. 11 about the quality of its product on TV and movie screens, but it was short-lived. Hollywood is still churning out more sex, profanity, violence, and other related junk than the decent American family cares for.
On Wall Street, a string of arrests, resignations, and discoveries of malfeasance has shaken faith in the probity of corporate America.
But take heart, there are still a lot of pluses to be grateful for. Here are 10 on my list:
• Despite my gloomy correspondent's prediction, democracy does work and is growing. Other than in the Muslim world where the record is poor, three-quarters of the countries in the world are now rated by Freedom House as democracies.
• Democracy reigns, and no coup threatens in the US. The next incumbent of the White House will be determined not by bayonet or bloodshed, but by sturdy discourse between contenders, and by the people's choice among them.
• A robust watchdog press is free to investigate and criticize its government in the US, as it is in most of the Western world. There may be travesties such as Jayson Blair's betrayal of The New York Times, but it is the newspaper, not the government, that takes punitive action.
• Another Blair - Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair - has shown us that there are still politicians willing to stand up for what they believe to be principle, despite awesome political pressure.
• The will of countries attacked by terrorism has not been broken. Americans go about their day-to-day business and seek to replace the World Trade Center towers with an appropriate memorial. Israelis, after each bus bombing, rebuild the shattered busstops within 24 hours.
• The US economy, unshaken by terrorist attacks at home and abroad, is rebounding from recession in remarkable testimony to its incredible strength, endurance, and future growth.
• The world is still full of acts of individual compassion and caring. In newspapers across America there are daily stories of doctors and dentists who take their healing talents to needy children around the world, of housewives who make quilts and collect care packages to send to victims of disasters, and of myriad other individuals helping individuals.
• The negotiations are delicate and the canny culprits need to be watched, but the threat of nuclear-weapons development in Iran may be being contained, and even North Korea may be induced to less belligerent nuke-brandishing.
• In US foreign policy, multilateralism is not dead and unilateralism does not run rampant. The lessons learned from postwar reconstruction problems in Iraq have caused the White House to reinforce the belief that friends are necessary and important.
• Differences over Iraq may continue, but we can all be grateful for one thing: the courage of the young American soldiers - and Britons and Italians and others - who are making such extraordinary sacrifices there in the hope that what they are doing will make the world better.
• John Hughes, editor and chief operating officer of the Deseret Morning News, is a former editor of the Monitor.