The Sources of our National Divide

May 7, 2018

As a result of responsible data collection, reasoned analysis from trusted public thinkers, and some old fashioned common sense from those with a keen historical sense it is now clear what has driven and continues to drive our terrible political polarization and unrelenting social anger. Let’s take a look at the sources of our national divide.

One of the primary foundations of our national divide is income inequality. The renowned French economist Thomas Piketty in his book Capital in the Twenty-First Century  and University of Michigan social scientist Ronald Inglehart use a wealth of data to verify a twist on the old adage- the rich are getting richer the while rest of us are standing still. In the United States the top ten percent of Americans now take home nearly half of the national income. For the rest of Americans wage growth is relatively stagnant. There have been some recent small gains, but most of the working classes are pretty much where they were ten years ago. The nation’s largest employer, Wal-Mart, pays most of its workers in the $ 8-12 range. The United States is now one of the leading countries in terms of income inequality.

With that kind of pay inequality it is no wonder that people are angry as they live paycheck to paycheck and have to scrape together money in case of a family emergency, even as simple as paying the deductible for a car accident. That anger is part of the answer for Donald Trump’s base of support and the joy over the tax cut which put some money, usually a modest amount, in the pockets of the “forgotten Americans.” But a few more bucks in a paycheck is not going to ease the anger or solve our national division. That same Trump tax bill actually increased the gap between the rich and the working class and will continue widening the gap in the coming years.

Then there is the 21st Century equivalent of the industrial revolution – the information revolution. As documented by Walter Russell Mead in the Wall Street Journal and Foreign Affairs and Paul Krugman of the New York Times that smartphone or laptop may be a godsend to you and your family but it is part of a gigantic shift in how we work in this country.  Foreign trade is not putting people out of work, rather it is automation, all those mechanical robots on assembly lines, those cameras that have replaced toll takers, the swanky new garbage trucks that pick up the refuse without the help of two assistants, and computerized banking programs that have put tellers on the unemployment lines.  The list of automation destroying old line jobs is endless and will only grow in the coming years. It would be great if there was a public-private partnership to retrain workers in the new growth areas of work, but right now there is only anger and despair as the information revolution replaces the industrial revolution. The divide marches onward as more and more Americans blame somebody, anybody, usually a politician for their sad future. Of course the answer is in the willingness of people to adapt to a new age, but that is easier said than done.

Then there is the immigration/racial divide.  The history of this country has too often been defined by periods of anti-immigration nativism, racial animosity and plane old bigotry. From “No Irish Need Apply” to the Know-Nothing Party to the Neo-Nazis marching in Charlottesville there has unfortunately been a strain of antipathy toward those who appear different and are not “American.” Trump used this antipathy for his benefit as he championed the wall, harshly criticized Muslim-Americans, and made clearly racially charged comments against African-Americans. He got the votes he wanted but in the process pushed this country into a national divide as too many of us forget how we became a great nation and how we often welcomed those “huddled masses longing to be free.” Sadly, it has become easier and easier to find a racial reason for our all that ails us, rather than see racial harmony as the key to building unity.

Finally, our national divide continues and even spreads because of our longing to return to the days of family, church and community of the 1950’s. Especially for those who were brought up in that era of calm and order, today with its open society of gay marriage, LGBT rights, recreational marijuana, pornography, violent video games, atheism, and a growing secular bent America is a place that is viewed as headed to hell in a hand basket unless we return to the old days when we didn’t have all these free thinking abominations. If we would only say Merry Christmas rather than Happy Holidays in order to accommodate those who make up a growing diverse nation, all would likely be better, at least that is the argument from  those who remember the Ozzie and Harriet 1950’s television show. But of course the 1950’s are not coming back – the family is in tatters, nearly 40% of young people are irreligious, and more and more people are holed up in their bunker homes afraid to become part of a vibrant community.

So what to do? Peace and unity are not around the corner. We will just have to struggle through this mess for a while, perhaps for another generation.  We just don’t have the political leaders or the political will to unify and compromise and find consensus. We very well could be headed to hell in a hand basket, but one thing to remember, this country, despite difficult times in the past, has always found a way to rebound from adversity. The American spirit may be in retreat but it is not dead and likely will re appear to bring us to a better day; it just won’t happen next year.

 

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2017 Was a Terrible Year

December 12, 2017

2017 was a terrible year, and no it was not only because Donald Trump took the oath of office on January 20th, although inaugurating Number 45 certainly didn’t help matters. 2017 was a terrible year because of devastating hurricanes and wildfires, senseless mass shootings, grotesque men preying upon women, a further descent into incompetent government, and the loss of some of my favorite celebrities – Mary Tyler Moore, Fats Domino, George “The Animal” Steele, Chuck Berry, and Batman ( Adam West, the real Batman).

2017 was a terrible year because in both the public and private sectors feelings of shame and personal embarrassment took a big hit as people we thought we knew and admired contributed to a decline in our collective culture. Lying became an acceptable form of behavior; cheating on all levels was commonplace; bullying of the innocent was a regular occurrence; anger and intolerance exploded; and the values that we as a nation took for granted began to be chipped away.

2017 was a terrible year because those who controlled the levers of public power saw a need to replace a process of governing based on moderation, consensus, and compromise with mean-spirited partisanship and unnecessary favors for the rich and well born. Rather than building on the past and reforming what didn’t quite work, the mantra was reject and repeal. Meanwhile the gap between the rich and the rest of us got wider and wider.

2017 was a terrible year because the world stood on the brink of war, agreements designed to improve life were ignored or violated, millions of people were displaced, and far too many people and their governments could not muster the courage to open their hearts and their wallets to those in desperate need. Not In My Backyard became more than a slogan, but a way of looking at the space outside our homes, and not caring one bit.

And 2017 was a terrible year because what progress may have been made to create an integrated society took a big hit as racial, ethnic and religous tensions escalated, people forgot who Jesus made friends with, phony patriotism took over sporting events, and those who pump billions into our economy doing work that we shun were told to get out.

I am a big believer in hope as a way of dealing with those people, events and conditions that make our great country less than what it can be. 2018 is right around the corner and one can only hope that it will be a better year as we bring that terrible 2017 to a close. Let’s keep hope alive.

 


Always Vigilant

December 15, 2015

There’s a lot of talk these days about how to defeat ISIS and keep America safe. I for one am not one of those people who buys into the argument that what we need to do is send thousands of our soldiers to Syria and Iraq in a modern day crusade to destroy radical Islam at is core. Whether politicians like to admit it, everyday ISIS is losing territory and seeing its top leadership killed off. Sure ISIS remains a major international terrorist threat with the capability to recruit new suicide bombers, but this is going to be a long war won incrementally, not with one major attack on the capital city of the caliphate, Raqqa.

What I am more concerned about is the growing level of fear within American society and the fear-mongering of our leaders. Rather than educate the citizens of this country on how to develop their skills at spotting a threat or alerting the authorities to suspicious behavior, what is happening is the beginning of a bunker mentality mixed with old-fashioned bigotry and stockpiling guns. You don’t defeat ISIS by destroying their capital, buying your kids Kevlar backpacks, attacking innocent Muslims, or staying at home rather than enjoying life in a free country.

ISIS will be defeated when we show resolve as a nation to protect the homeland; when we don’t stand idly by when we see something that just doesn’t seem right; when we fail to understand that just because someone dresses differently or prays differently they somehow become the enemy; and when we forget that as citizens we have the responsibility to always remain vigilant.

There is not a sane person who doesn’t know fear; in fact fear is a good thing as it keeps us from falling prey to danger. But fear that overcomes one’s daily life, fear that generates hatred, fear that follows blindly those with easy answers, this is the fear that is frankly un-American. True American patriots are not flag wavers or bombastic blowhards. True American patriots become involved in protecting their community, taking reasonable precautionary measures, and never falling prey to those who promise a solution without any answers. In short American patriots always remain vigilant.


Being Safe and Sorry

November 19, 2015

In the wake of the Paris massacre and the yet unproven link between one of the terrorists and Syrian migrants, the Congress, most of the nation’s governors and the American people soundly reject President Obama’s decision to take in 10,000 refugees next year. The opposition to Obama’s promise is based not just on national security concerns and a lack of faith in the vetting process of the Syrians, both legitimate reasons, but a more sinister rejection of Islam and those people who hold to that religion, no matter what hardships they have endured.

When Ben Carson uses the term “dogs” in reference to the Syrians. Donald Trump pledges to close mosques, Jeb Bush wants only to protect Christian Syrians, and Ted Cruz talks makes off handed remarks about internment camps, it becomes quickly obvious that stopping Obama’s plan is more than just about national security and bureaucratic incompetence.

To use a word often used by former president George H.W.Bush, it would be prudent to delay any Syrian refugee resettlement program until the United States and its allies get a better handle on terrorist sleeper cells and lone wolf fanatics, and construct a comprehensive international strategy to destroy ISIL and its caliphate that bridges Syria and Iraq. It is just common sense to sort out the threat, build better intelligence networks, beef up security and go after ISIL where they live.

But because we are in an election cycle of enormous importance to the nation, fear too easily overwhelms reason and common sense. Let’s not forget that the 1st Amendment protects the ” free exercise ” of religion, Lady Liberty welcomes the oppressed – ” give me your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free.” and we as a people have always taken pride in the long and proud tradition of tolerating differences, ( and oh yes, Steve Jobs’ father was a Syrian immigrant).

It is important that we as a people not let fear take over our lives and religious bigotry rule the day. The prudent course of action is to fashion an entry system for Syrian refugees that is not haphazard and filled with bureaucratic exceptions. This will take some time. But let us not as a nation fall prey to those who are anxious to make this an anti-Muslim crusade and make the all the followers of Islam into terrorists.