Clearly, she had a point. But spiritually, despair over human weakness really doesn't get us very far. Is it possible to find some gratitude in our hearts, even in the face of such clownishness? Perhaps we could remember that bad as our system is—overpowered by money, shaped by an electorate half of which does not vote, keyed to satisfaction of beliefs and values which are so often opposed to our common good—it has some great goods in it. At times we have been able to make moral progress through political means—as in the civil rights and feminist movements. At times dissidents could make their voices heard to check an abhorrent foreign policy—as in mass popular demonstrations against the Vietnam War. At times corrupt politicians suffer for their corruption—as Nixon did. If there are lots of problems, there have been, at times, some real moves in the right direction. Despair over what is going wrong is perfectly understandable and appropriate, but so is a deep appreciation for what we have accomplished.

The last spiritual virtue I'll mention is loving connection. Every religious tradition celebrates it, as do countless spiritual teachers who consider themselves "spiritual but not religious." What does love mean in politics? Rooted in awareness of our own moral frailties, keyed to gratitude for the gifts that we have created, spiritual love in politics is a sort of activist kindness, a wish that all beings be happy and free of pain, a cheerful willingness to roll up our sleeves and make our communities and nation a little better, and a sense of wonder that human beings—with all our short-sightedness, selfishness, tendency to violence, and moral narrowness—can ever live together with any care and justice.

If only for a few moments a day, perhaps we can treasure the fact that we have been blessed to be here alive and kicking in this mysterious and magical life. That might bring a little joy to hearts laden with grief for all our losses and fear for all our futures.