I’ve been traveling most of the month and had a lot of time to think during long stretches of boring interstate highways. I hope to put some of those thoughts to paper when I get more time. The overwhelming sense I get, though, is that we are a nation and world in trouble. I don’t see easy political solutions to the big issues that face us. Instead of coming together to face our challenges, we’re becoming increasingly divided.
Climate change is the most pressing and threatening problem we face and the current leaders seem unwilling or unable to properly address it. I arrived in Minnesota to heat bumping up against 100 degrees in a place where a lot of houses still don’t have air conditioning. Almost one third of the population of the U.S. will be under heat advisories and 80% of the people will see temperatures above 90 degrees over the next week. In England, temperatures reached 104 degrees, the highest ever recorded. Fires are raging across Europe. Summer has turned from fun in the sun to dangerous to be outdoors.
On a broader scale, glaciers are melting and the seas are warming. Some species of animals are dying and others are moving, either expanding their habitable territory like alligators or escaping the heat like polar bears, disrupting delicate and fragile ecosystems. Large storms are becoming more frequent and sea levels are rising, destroying habitats for a lot of living creatures, including people.
I’m optimistic that we can tackle climate change through new technology that would both reduce the amount of carbon we emit and capture the carbon that’s already in the atmosphere. But it will take the political will to do it. One party seems to be in denial about the severity of the situation and Joe Manchin is more worried about the deficit.
Instead of coming together to address the problem, we’re more divided than we have been in decades. Political polarization is getting worse, not better. Congress is largely dysfunctional, dependent on supermajorities that don’t exist in the country as a whole. It’s become little more than a vehicle for approving federal judges and the House doesn’t even participate in that. It’s no wonder we’ve shifted the responsibility of governing to the courts, but it sure hasn’t worked out well if you’re a fan of democracy.
The Supreme Court is handing down opinions that have encouraged minority rule by restricting democracy and emboldening the powerful. The Citizens United decision shifted power away from candidates and parties towards corporations and billionaires. Today, dark money groups dwarf the amount of money candidates raise and spend in elections and the two parties are beholden to these groups instead of the other way around. The Shelby County v. Holder decision essentially gutted the Voting Rights Act and states quickly took advantage to restrict access to the polls, using the lie of voter fraud as a kind of Reichstag fire to pass anti-democratic measures.
Culturally, we’re like two separate countries. One is socially conservative, adhering to fundamentalist religious teachings and a fear of the changing demographics of the country. The other is a largely secular nation that believes diversity is our strength while ignoring the fact that much of the diverse population is also religious and conservative. As a friend of mine once said, on Sunday morning, half the country is going to church and the other half is going to brunch. We seem to be growing further apart, but that may be an illusion magnified by actions of Congress and the Courts.
I think there’s still a broad middle in this country that both sides of the political aisle ignore or alienate. The parties are more concerned about offending their activist flanks than building broader coalitions that could win these moderates and centrists who are mostly voters who think less about politics than they do the immediate concerns of their day to day lives. They don’t define themselves in political terms.
If we’re going to address our most pressing problems, the ones that pose existential threats either to our form of government or humanity as whole, we need leaders to emerge who are willing to take the fight to the extremes, pushing back against interest groups that insist on shaping failing legislation. This burden falls on Democrats because the GOP is too beholden to Trumpists. Until Republicans can defeat the cult of personality that inhabits the party, they won’t be able to build a broad center. Democrats just need to stand up to the interest groups that fund their campaigns.
A majority of Americans believe that climate change is real and caused by human activity and the government is doing too little to address it. Large majorities support investments in development of wind, solar, and hydrogen while narrow majorities support nuclear energy.
They think abortion should be legal but also believe that it’s an unfortunate procedure that should be regulated.
They believe that we need common sense gun control, including strict regulation of assault weapons and high capacity clips, but they also believe that they should have the ability to own guns for self-protection and sporting.
They are very concerned about overly aggressive law enforcement but they overwhelmingly support the police.
They support better pay and benefits, like raising the minimum wage and improved access to health care, but they also don’t want burdens on businesses that would hamper their ability to thrive.
They support the right of gay people to marry.
They believe that women give birth and men don’t, even if they oppose discrimination against transgender people.
They want their kids to learn an honest history of race in America, but they don’t want their children taught that White people are villains or that our country as a whole is racist and evil.
Certainly there’s more, but those are most of the hot button issues of the day. Surely, some Democrat could shape those sentiments into a coherent agenda that appeals to more people than just the base.