Thinking about my country during this time of social distancing
During my time of self-isolation and social distancing, I have thought some about this nation’s not so distant past. Twenty years ago, Bill Clinton’s last year as President, our country was paying off its National Debt. That November Al Gore won the popular vote promising to lead the world in facing global warming. He also encouraged a conversation on the epidemic of gun violence as well as promising to continue to keep weapons of war out of civilian hands.
With help from the Supreme Court our country got a President who called the new century the American Century. That included cutting taxes instead of paying our debts, referring to Global Warming as “Climate Change,” starting two wars we could not win and would not pay for, saying torture was okay as long as we called it "advanced interrogation." Regulations on big corporations were cut and in 2008 the country ended up in a ditch. (What would the national safety net look like if Bush had succeeded in privatizing Social Security?)
Eight years of Obama steadied the ship. Among other things the US reconnected with the world, our alliances became important again, Global Warming became a common enemy, health care for the first time became something for everyone.
Then we elected the guy now in charge. He chooses to govern by dividing Americans, scoffing at alliances, belittling, undermining and understaffing Government workers and agencies, making the Free Press the enemy of the People, and now with impunity withholding aid to foreign leaders for personal and/or political gain. The one piece of major legislation passed is a tax cut mostly for corporations and the rich. With that the national debt explodes with no thought of future “downturns.” And we are now in a downturn like no other.
To make things worse the political system is in grave danger. In 2010 the Supreme Court made it okay to raise unlimited amounts of money to run for office. Once elected many in the Republican Party sign pledges promising they will not raise money to govern. The threat of voter fraud provides cover to increase voter suppression. The President says in so many words he does not support mail in ballots because they reveal the true will of the people. Voting in Wisconsin becomes a matter of life and death for the same reason.
For the 2nd time in a dozen years our country is on the brink. There is no one answer. The answers will take all of us, will demand a national effort, with a government of and for and by the people that we all can, hopefully, look to and rely on. It will demand leaders who are not grievance based and narcissistically driven.
Seeing (in part) how the Greatest Generation did their jobs may serve as an example. They fought and won a war then paid for it and for this nation’s infrastructure for most of their working life. They accepted more than complained about the financial burden it placed on them. They took advantage of the GI Bill to advance their education. They believed that we are all in this together. In leadership roles they passed laws including the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act that added to social and racial justice for all (while the debate of who we "all" are continues.) While making America great, they believed in making sure those who were struggling were not left behind. These days some call that “socialism.” At the time it was called being a good neighbor, Christian kindness, sharing the bounty, doing together what no one can do alone. Most importantly when that generation won their war and saved this country, they believed our children’s future is worth sacrificing for not simply sacrificing.
My hope is that as we work our way together to get out of this mess, that we may emerge as a nation and as a world that our children, and in my case grandchildren, can be proud of and grateful to inherit.