Every year has its own challenges, and 2020 will certainly be shaped by both events and individuals in ways that we cannot readily predict. We will, of course, see a news cycle often dominated by the upcoming Presidential campaign and the pronouncements and missteps of the candidates. Hot button social issues, crimes, natural disasters, economic news, celebrity stupidity, and both the promises and pitfalls of new technologies will bounce off our eyeballs while we drink our morning coffee.
Mashed in between it all will be the usual partisan blaming and raving about the efforts of some to use government and its many powers as a blunt instrument to create a utopia while others grimace at the inexorable rise of their taxes in an apparently inverse relationship with the benefits being provided.
However, when all the feverish discussions have run their course, I suspect the biggest impacts on our nation and our people will revolve around three “Big D’s” that should be of concern to us all: Debt, Disrespect, and Disinterest. Events sadden or gladden us, people snag our attention for a time, and our own successes and failures consume our energies, but it all exists within a broader framework that dramatically impacts our country.
Debt is the single biggest threat to both our prosperity and cohesion. Our skyrocketing federal, state, and local governmental debts, egregiously underfunded pension systems, and many promises of future benefits with nothing but a fistful of I.O.U.’s in hand to make good is a tsunami that is cresting—and preparing to drown us all. Never, to clumsily paraphrase Winston Churchill, have so many owed so much with so few dollars available.
Healthcare, education, public safety, national defense—and virtually every facet of our lives—will be consumed by a frantic scramble for the shrinking sliver of cash that will be available after retiree costs, interest on existing debt, and frantic efforts to patch deteriorating infrastructure vacuum up what is available. In order to postpone the inevitable day of reckoning, taxes and fees of every type will be raised to the roof in the near future, but eventually the ability to continue to paper over the chasm between promising and providing will prompt budgetary choices that range from the truly horrible to the stupendously miserable. The last few decades were about government giving away goodies; taking them away will soon be just around the corner.
Perhaps prodded by our debt crisis, we will, sad to say, likely see more and more disrespectful attacks among Americans during 2020. Some of this will, of course, be prompted by the upcoming Presidential election, which is our regular quadrennial debate regarding our infinite range of values and priorities. Having to make tough and essentially irreversible decisions about spending when the spigot of wonderful government cash is no longer gushing as it once was, we will hear the following words regularly—cruel, heartless, and mean—from those who seem not to understand addition and subtraction.
Dissent and disagreement are important components of a healthful and functional society, and herein lies one of our major challenges in 2020 and beyond: protecting the right to think. The regular and vociferous attacks upon those whose viewpoints differ and cause distress to others has become a depressing feature of our daily lives and stifles discussions of all types.
It is impossible to debate the many issues now facing our nation when the core belief of so many is that those with contrary values or opinions are evil, stupid—or both. Listening with an open mind to ideas other than one’s own is how we learn, grow, and develop the consensus needed for successful governance. Our “Cancel Culture” is killing our country—one insult at a time. Our success at promoting respectful dialogue, accepting diversity of ideas, and protecting the rights of those who disagree with mainstream opinion will be the best indications of the overall health of our nation.
The insistent refrain that disagreement with others is, in and of itself, a form of disrespect is flat out wrong; to demand absolute conformity of thought and action in all areas of our lives is as disrespectful—and dangerous—a notion as can possibly be imagined as regards our cultural, political, and psychological well being.
Finally, although the passions of the few are what usually attract our attention, I actually worry the most about the indifference of the many. The lack of interest often shown regarding the most basic duties of citizenship—learning how our government works (and many times does not), understanding the issues, and showing up to vote on Election Day—is both remarkable and worrisome. Disengagement breeds dysfunction, and no nation can long survive when no one seems to care. Perhaps some cataclysm will someday awaken Americans from their slumber; if not, we are in far more trouble than we realize.
I am often amazed at the abject ignorance of so many regarding our branches of government, how each works, the checks and balances between each enshrined in our Constitution—and how each both compliments and supports the others. The fascinating and sometimes maddening history of our nation is the best education of all for our citizenry, but our schools typically teach it as if it is a comic book—if they bother teaching it at all. No wonder so many discussions turn into shouting matches regarding which side is more stupid—both are often equally culpable.
Perhaps the best tool available to renew America and put us on a firm footing for the future is to delve into our past and more deeply understand our triumphs, failures, and amazing resilience rather than attempt to construct our arguments based upon catchy buzzwords that obscure rather than illuminate. A bit of quiet contemplation over a book—or many books—about America and our unique experiment with democracy might be the best cure for all that ails us today.