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Monday
Nov072016

Who Will Bring Us Together?

I’ve recently argued that, if Hillary Clinton is elected, she needs to pursue a centrist orientation in order to end the standoff between the liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans and to start finding a compromise middle ground that can heal the terrible divisions that divide our country. I’m well aware that this strategy of  “starving” the extremes of mainstream support has its downsides. First of all, it is basically the strategy of Barack Obama and it resulted in solidifying the extreme right enough to allow them to take over the Republican Party, at least in terms of nominating Donald Trump, and resulted in a Democratic progressive movement, led by Bernie Sanders, that divided the liberal wing of the party into those who favored political positions that were guaranteed to alienate even moderate Republicans and those (eventually led by Sanders himself when he agreed to support Clinton) who were more pragmatic. Secondly, President Obama aroused a lot of personal antipathy because he is Black, and the racism, which is just below the surface in much of White America, led a lot of the electorate and many Republican congressmen to discount his achievements and oppose him whenever possible. Hillary Clinton arouses even greater antipathy than Barack Obama, partly as a symptom of sexism, but even more so because she is a Clinton, whom most conservatives dislike and distrust and now much of America also hates. But beyond these first two objections to Clinton attempting a centrist position, is the underlying fact that political centrism in the United States represents the establishment politics that has been characterized by control of both congressional and presidential policy-making by the corporate oligarchy that favors policies that lead to greater income disparity and, as a result of that, fosters extreme populist movements on both the right and left, that further divide the country. Not to mention, that the poor get poorer, the middle class stagnates, the climate warms and the environment becomes more damaged when corporate America succeeds in having its priorities determine national policy.

So political centrism has its downsides. But we seem left with only the options of either embracing more of the same “establishment” policies that led us into the present situation or embracing a position on one of the extremes (for Clinton it would be a liberal extreme) that alienates half the nation, probably results in congressional/executive gridlock in Washington, and causes even greater division within the populace.

I’ve oversimplified.

The gridlock in Washington is probably not so much due to Obama pursuing any particular types of policies as to the Tea Party movement taking advantage of congressional district gerrymandering to elect ideologically extreme, intransigent congressmen who blocked even centrist proposals in Congress.

Wage stagnation, income inequality, concentration of wealth in a few, and low GDP growth are, according to Thomas Piketty, an international phenomena, due more to the natural evolution of capitalism and the ending of outlier economic conditions such as the industrial revolution and post-war booms than to any particular recent policies of our government. I find it amazing that, while everyone discussed Piketty’s ideas when they came out, they seem to have completely forgotten them in proposing policies for the U.S. (how many political leaders have embraced Piketty’s idea that our GDP growth will remain at 2% or less for the foreseeable future? Or that genuinely onerous taxes on the wealthy are necessary to reverse income inequality?).

Nationalism, racism and xenophobia are not “made in America” phenomena. These sentiments are sweeping Europe in reaction to immigration from the Middle East and Africa and are sweeping the Middle East as reactions to the globalization of Western culture. Donald Trump didn’t invent these things; the underlying fears of the entire world about people who look, worship or behave differently than they do, have been activated by more mixing of peoples and ideas than anyone was prepared for. And with the internet and increasing wars and population displacements from global warming, these factors are going to become more prominent in the future.

If any of what I’ve said above is correct, then someone with a wide grasp of politics, economics, science (since global warming really is our greatest danger), sociology, and the international situation—someone independent of special interests who want to control the discussion for their own ends—needs to translate all these ideas into ones our citizens can appreciate. It’s really only if we all put our heads together that we can successfully meet the challenges of this century.  But Americans (and no doubt Frenchmen, Germans, Egyptians, Iranians, Russians and Somalis as well as everyone else) are not disposed to consider complex ideas when it comes to politics. This is particularly true if they are afraid. In times of fear, people suspend complex reasoning and grasp at simple ideas that promise (even if only vaguely and unrealistically) immediate solutions.

I don’t know the answer to bringing our country, much less the rest of the world, together. I’m pretty sure the path we’re following will not do it. Perhaps, at the national level, a “gang of eight” type group of national (perhaps political) leaders can decide to tackle these issues and come up with a set of proposals based upon all the nuances of economics, science, international relations, etc. that I’ve mentioned, which can serve as guideposts for our national policies. Perhaps at the international level a group of world leaders can do the same. And maybe some of our most persuasive public messengers can put these ideas in a form that the average citizen can appreciate. I know that smart, politically astute, persuasive and well-meaning people exist. I happen to think that Barack Obama is one of those people and once he is unfettered from the demands of the presidency, perhaps he can show it and continue to lead in this way.  On the international scene, I think Pope Francis is another of these people. There are others. The human race made great progress because the human brain is a marvelous creation from evolution. But we have to use its best reasoning skills in the pursuit of generous and altruistic ends to get ourselves out of the mess we have created.

Reader Comments (2)

Before I read the two lines AFTER your statement: "And maybe some of our most persuasive public messengers can put these ideas in a form that the average citizen can appreciate," my mind immediately jumped to "Barack Obama". Sure enough, two seconds and two lines later in your piece, there he was, "Barack Obama" - with Pope Francis thrown for good measure.
You mentioned global climate change as one of our greatest dangers, and it's extremely difficult to see how anyone cannot believe that it is. The effect of global climate change which is presently causing droughts, changes in crop tolerance, rising of sea levels, etc. will continue to cause displacement of groups of people throughout the world, instability of governments, and social upheaval that creates continued and new wars throughout the globe. That is, UNLESS, as you allude to, there is clever enough articulation and explanation of these problems to effect the intransigent minds of the those who lack foresight, especially among the population of old white male dudes (yourself and the men I know excluded.)
I believe firmly, moreover, that the radical Technological and Scientific revolution that we are experiencing is vastly more intense than the Industrial Revolution ever was because of its speed. These technological and scientific advancements are causing adjustment by humankind at a rate that is as exponential as the rate of change - changes in perspectives on every aspect of our lives from our relationships to our family to our views on religion and our own meaning in the universe.
The use of robotics in industry will only increase, our life spans will lengthen, and every aspect of our daily lives will change in ways that we can't even imagine.
We cannot be so shortsighted as to think, for example, about maintaining jobs of the past, but instead, we need to contemplate how to adjust now and in the future to changed demand for jobs on both ends of the labor spectrum. Service jobs whose need will increase and technical jobs whose need will be critical but will require fewer humans, have to be analyzed anew. We will have to re-shift our whole view of compensation for these jobs because increase in disparity of wealth will surely cause total upheaval of the masses. Lower skilled jobs will HAVE to be compensated at a level that does not create continued dis-apportionment of wealth.
Interestingly enough, it is actually ART that has always been at the forefront of helping people adjust to social change. In modern times, views expressed through fiction and film have shaped change in perspective. (I remember having somewhat of an awakening about religion itself in the segment of the old "Star Trek" TV series when Spock's consciousness was transferred to a large glass ball set on the table beside him.) Hopefully, the people who will be able to move humankind in the direction of forward thinking, whatever group that is - the politicians, the Carl Sagans, the artists, the writers, the film makers, the Barack Obamas of the world - will emerge before it's too late. No matter what our role, becoming active by our personal involvement in government and in political movements after the election will be critical. President Obama begged us to untie his hands, but we didn't. We have to be more active this time around.
As for pulling in those who cannot see beyond the past and long for a time back in the 50's, I can't be as generous as you, Casey. If they can't or won't let go of discriminatory, short-sighted thinking, I'm not sure they they can be of any help and merely have to be tolerated and get out of the way of those who want to see our species continue to thrive. We need the courage to NOT capitulate to values that are destructive to mankind. I think Gandhi, Martin Lutheran King and a few others might agree.

November 7, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterBillie Kelpin

Personally I think you give too much credit to voters. Most people vote emotionally. If anything than it is about the economy and pride.
Trump is the president, I would love to hear what you think about it.

November 9, 2016 | Unregistered Commenteryoffy

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