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One Wall Fell, But Others Still Remain

WASHINGTON - Monday's commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall comes at an anxious crossroads in America.

The memory of that day, when thousands of unified Germans began tearing down one of the 20th century's biggest symbols of oppression, comes as people around the globe face rising unemployment, war and terrorism.

In America, the anxiety and pessimism of everyday conversation obscures the memories of that hopeful time 20 years ago when the country's leaders began talking about a "peace dividend."

After 9/11, and the Ponzi investment crooks, and government's struggles to deal with killer hurricanes and flu pandemics, it's no surprise that 52 percent of respondents in a Rasmussen poll Thursday said America's best days had passed.

It's not a surprise that Americans are shouting at themselves at town hall meetings and in the halls of government. Twenty years ago, there was no Internet to virally spread the mistrust, intolerance and incivility that wrack today's discourse.

There are more references to the Great Depression and Jimmy Carter's malaise days than there are to the innovation, perseverance and pluck that pulled a nation out of both.

Amid such sour times, it's easy to forget the optimism of 20 years ago, the affirmation of yearning that had survived tyrants and their gulags and concentration camps. Ronald Reagan's words - "Tear down this wall" - had come to life with the percussion of real hammers wielded against the barrier.

A new president was talking about a kinder, gentler America, although he would be ousted from office three years later when the economy hit a bump not nearly as rough as today's.

After the wall fell, Americans soon channeled their discontent through an unlikely political player, Ross Perot. But he faded away in the pocketbook prosperity of the Clinton years.

The country struggled through a culture war that has left many souls wanting.

Now, a new president who came in on a promise of hope and action finds himself governing a country about as divided as when he took office. Not all the walls have come down, not nearly so.

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