Oscar Wilde said that a cynic was someone who knew the price of everything and the value of nothing. The dictionary says a cynic is someone “who believes that only selfishness motivates human actions and who disbelieves in or minimizes selfless acts or disinterested points of view”. Those are both pretty negative definitions. Yet there’s another aspect of cynicism, a positive one, that rarely gets any press: a cynic is someone who assumes that anyone who tries to sell him a pig in a poke is a crook.
It’s that aspect that we might consider re-energizing in America after 30 years of being conned, manipulated, lied to, and asked to swallow mountains of shit they told us was chocolate pudding. We have lived through an era in which the worst one could say about a person was that s/he was negative, pessimistic, untrusting, and had no “faith” in his/her leaders; that that lack of faith meant s/he hated America and was at the very least a terrorist cheerleader who wanted to see America go down the tubes because how could s/he doubt that everything s/he was told was true unless s/he was a faithless, pessimistic doom-monger? Everything was the best in the best of all possible worlds and anybody who didn’t believe that was a) a worthless liberal/Commie simp and b) a TRAITOR.
Only it turns out we weren’t. It turns out that even the most cynical of us nevertheless underestimated the greed, mendacity, arrogance, and cruelty of the leaders we were expected to put absolute faith in, were supposed to trust with our country and our lives. It turns out that expecting what we considered to be the worst possible outcomes, we missed the mark by a mile-and-a-half. Skepticism wasn’t enough. We should have been much more than skeptical. We should have been cynical. As much distrust as we had, we should have had more. It was justified.