If only we can keep on walking…
Our current moment is both unique and momentous. You can sense it in the air – we stand precariously at a tipping point. It feels, to me, equal parts inspiring and terrifying, because the while we can sniff the outcome, it is by no means certain.
I’ve lived through more than a third of our nation’s 244-year existence. Never have we faced such an onslaught of immediate existential threats, and historical parallels that might help illuminate a path forward just are not there.
There are four pressing concerns that, effectively addressed, can provide our nation with fair sailing ahead for some time. If………
RACIAL EQUITY: The pain pouring forth in our streets over the death of George Floyd (and 1,000 others each year, according to an analysis by the Washington Post) is a tragic reminder that, as far as race is concerned, America has simply never met the promise of ideals. It’s not just “Black Lives Matter” — it’s not even exclusively about police violence. Instead, we’re waking up to the idea that systemic, institutional racism is alive and well in criminal justice, economics, education, voting rights and a host of other areas. The mainly peaceful responses to the recent protests have been encouraging, but we’ve seen the determination that emerges in the wake of tragedy dissipate before in the face of institutional viscosity and inaction. Ultimately, we must solve this problem, or it will destroy us. There is currently a whiff of change in the air, but we have to find a way to make it happen.
THE VIRUS: We now have a better handle on what works and what doesn’t. Social distancing and masks clearly have impeded the spread of the virus. But the politics of our day have somehow made masks and separation wedge issues and compelled too many states to attempt a “return to normal” prematurely. As a result, coronavirus infections are INCREASING again in more than twenty states. The risks of this cavalier approach to public health are not just more needless deaths, but additional economic turmoil as states fight regionalized outbreaks and, importantly, new conflicts around the racial disparities in infections and deaths associated with the virus. We should know more around election time in November what the virus rebounds may look like.
THE ECONOMIC RECOVERY: This will be the toughest hill we have to climb. When a bottle of wine breaks and most of the wine spills, it is possible to save what’s left in the bottle but impossible to soak up and restore the spilled wine. The stimulus-fueled stock market gains belie the depths of the collapse, and the full impact will take months to play out, likely as a series of successes and cascading failures. The lessons of the depression in the 1930s has helped us oldies more than the young’uns. We must be prepared for a quite long and ugly recovery before we have enough wine again for a couple of meals.
And, looming over everything else:
THE ELECTION: It’s almost impossible to imagine progress on ANY of these issues without first taking care of the core business of democracy. Trump’s unique blend of disinterest in his real job [vs Presidential perks] overt racism, gross incompetence and an utter lack of empathy and morality has trashed the institutions that have historically preserved and protected the union. If it’s the President’s job to steer the ship of state, we are now at sea without a rudder.
It is not just the Presidential election. For the last 30 years, Republicans as a whole have embraced economic policies that benefit the 1%; blatantly stoked racism for political advantage; used the levers of government to suppress participation in elections; and generally sought to make government work for rich Republicans. Trump is doing a wonderful (from my perspective) job of running himself into icebergs almost daily – by all means, bringing back his daily press events would be very helpful! The Senate also seems very much in reach and most observers expect the House to remain in Democratic control
Those four steps and challenges are great, to be sure. But their simultaneous nature also offers a silver lining:
We have, before us, a singular opportunity to redefine America, to recast and rebuild the engines of society, commerce and government in a way that embraces the ideals enshrined in our founding documents.
History is being forged in the crucible that confronts us.
How it remembers us is being determined in 2020.