WASHINGTON. — THANKSGIVING TIME, and the nation is gloomy. Believe me it's so, I've been on the road.
The polls say Americans think their country ''is on the wrong track.'' The consumer-confidence indicators are plummeting. We go around saying that Congress, and the electoral system, is even worse than terrible, it's a farce. We are told, daily, that a recession is coming any minute.
Far be it for me to deny Americans their constitutional right to have grouse with their turkey. But if you would like to feel better, let's play a mental game.
Begin by turning back the pages of the calendar to last Thanksgiving, and then turn it back one more month.
It is now 13 months ago, October 1989. And I come up to you and say, tell you what I'm going to do, let's make a deal:
I will offer you first, good friend, the end of the Evil Empire. Yes, believe it or not, I will tell you that within 13 months, like a bolt from whatever Crayola calls blue these days, the Soviet Union will cease being a threat to America. Poof! Gone.
And then I will tell you, old buddy, that I will see to it that the Soviet Union will get out of Eastern Europe, and that all those countries, as well as the U.S.S.R. itself, will be seeking to set up democratic governments with free-market economies.
And then, to continue the fairy-tale, I will proffer, as part of the deal, the notion that scores of nations all over the world, will be moving rather suddenly, if painfully, toward political and economic liberty.
And then, friend, I'll tell you that you won't ever again have to worry about America being involved in a serious nuclear war. I'll tell you that your children will grow up in peace. And for the peaceniks and freezniks I will throw in that children will never have those nightmares about nuclear weapons obliterating their world.
And finally, I will stipulate that, when the new world of Thanksgiving Day 1990 comes around, the biggest, most-headlined problem will be that the nations of the world, led by America, will be massing at the border of a bandit state to squeeze and thrash a tyrant, and are arguing about exactly how and when to make it happen.
Of course, old friend, there are strings attached. Exactly two strings:
I will give you all that in return for one minimum-to-moderate sized recession, not much unlike the nine we have experienced in the last 45 years.
And, to get the deal, you must pledge that you will publicly say, on Thanksgiving 1990, slowly and in public, ''We never had it so good, and we would not have dared to imagine it so good.''
Is that a deal you would have accepted? Is it an offer you could have refused?
Here it is Thanksgiving 1990, and it has all come to pass.
And here I am beginning a road trip to explain it all to grousing Americans. My new book (ahem, ''The First Universal Nation,'' published by The Free Press) makes the case for the realism of optimism very clearly.
You would think that Americans would be in a mood to receive such a message and would welcome the bringer of such grand tidings.
You would be wrong. It is grouse season. A man hears me talk and says: But aren't we mortgaging our children's future with the deficit? I say we gave our kids more than our parents gave us, we gave them a world that will be peaceful, unthreatened by nuclear totalitarianism, and moving toward liberty, and, anyway, those kids will be more prosperous than we are. He is not much impressed, the grouse.
Maybe it will get better by Christmas. That's the season to be jolly, ho, ho, ho.