“America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You’ve got to want it, ‘cuz it’s gonna put up a fight.” – President Andrew Shepherd (The American President).
I sit here starting this blog entry on the evening of July 4th, America’s birthday, having just watched Lin Manuel-Miranda’s brilliant musical “Hamilton” for the second time in as many days. I think about the many challenges currently facing out country and wonder what Alexander Hamilton would think if he were here today. How about George Washington? Thomas Jefferson? Would they even recognize the union they fought so hard to establish?
It’s tempting (and very easy) to just give in to cynicism. Then again, I’ve never been one to choose the quick and easy path. I was raised to believe it leads to the Dark Side.
I would prefer to think about what we have to do to bring our country back together, to tackle the big problems as one people and to make America great…for the first time. Here are some of the conclusions at which I have arrived:
- We Must Fix Our Electoral System
Before we can begin to attack any of the big problems facing our country we have to repair our broken electoral system. The first step in that process must be to get rid of Citizens United, which took down the final barrier between huge corporations and our elected representatives. With the stoke of a pen we went from a pseudo-democracy directly into corporate fascism. Citizens United must go away before we can tackle any other issues, big or small.
Let’s take it one step further with public funding of elections. It’s an idea that works great in places like Bernie Sanders’ Vermont and Portland, Oregon. It means the only money people running for office get is the money provided by taxpayers, and everyone gets the same amount. The only people they are beholden to, then, are the people they were elected by . . .imagine that!
Next, let’s wipe away the ridiculous, gerrymandered districts that assure one party or the other an automatic win regardless of voter turnout. The Supreme Court has begun this process, but it needs to happen a lot faster and be treated like a dire emergency.
Finally, let’s make it crazy-easy to vote. Instead of working to prevent votes from demographics we don’t like, let’s make voting places as plentiful as gas stations. Let’s develop an app that lets people vote from their phones! If we can secure bank accounts and Apple IDs you can’t tell me we can’t have secure and easy ways to exercise our civic responsibility.
2. We must reclaim a free and accountable news industry.
When America first built an infrastructure for radio and television broadcasting, the trade off was that radio and TV stations would provide free and unbiased news. Over the years since then. the FCC has gradually been pressured to remove more and more restrictions on what constitutes news until we arrived at where we are today. People can choose a flavor of news and receive a nonstop dose of that flavor that often throws any semblance of factual content to the wind.
This doesn’t benefit anyone.
One of the biggest threats to our democracy is that we can’t agree on facts, and that must be addressed. Anything claiming to be news must be held accountable to reporting facts that are not spun or in dispute…let alone manufactured out of whole cloth.
3. Science cannot be seen as secondary to or subject to opinions.
When peer-reviewed scientific studies lead us to draw conclusions about the world around us, we can’t allow opinions, religions or fake news outlets to negate that science. The idea that we sit around endlessly debating undeniable conclusions about climate change, for example, costs us time we can’t afford to lose in actually fighting to reverse the impact of our actions on our own ecosystem. We also cannot afford, as a society, to feel that we don’t need to take action because some supernatural higher power is going to solve the problem for us at some future time.
As Neil deGrasse Tyson, the world’s preeminent astrophysicist and protege of the late, great Carl Sagan is fond of saying, science is our best way forward because it never pretends to know the absolute and final answer to anything. Science simply says “this is what we believe to be true today,” and when evidence of something different is discovered science does not hesitate to discard old notions in favor of the newest discovery. Empirical evidence must be our guide as we move forward.
4. We must emphasize our similarities and stop focusing on differences
Skin color is somewhat arbitrary and does not in any way indicate anything about intelligence, ability, or character. As we now know, thanks to the spread of DNA testing, most of us are the product of people of many different colors. Why, then, must we insist on using skin color as some kind of societal differentiation? The same can be said of sexual preference, religious adherence (or lack thereof) and even political affiliation.
At the most basic level there is absolutely no difference between people. We all need clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, safe food to eat and access to affordable health care. The pursuit of these things should not be a competition, but rather a communal effort where we work together toward our common goals. We must realize that we are all one, and act accordingly. All of the revered teachers of the past have agreed on this point, yet we stubbornly refuse to accept their most elementary lesson.
So what are we to think? Is America beyond saving? Perhaps. If we are to survive, however, we must set aside childish notions and become the national equivalent of a well-rounded, grown-up human being. The petulant child we too often resemble is doomed for certain.