How Do We Make America More “Fair” For All?

Two stories recently in the newsproposals to pay reparations to Black Americans to compensate for the legacy of slavery and the SATs new adversity scorethat is meant to quantify the unique personal challenges faced by some college applicantsspeak to our nations desire to lend a helping hand to those who have suffered through no fault of their own.  We have traditionally distinguished between those whom we deem complicit in creating their own problems and those whom we believe are innocent victims of circumstances beyond their control.  This dichotomy explains why, for example, Americans are typically far more sympathetic to the plight of undocumented Dreamerswho were snuck into the U.S. by their parents as children compared to our often more punitive attitudes toward adults detained for illegal entrywe perceive that adults have choices but children have none.

The quest for equity both drives and complicates our political discussions today.  The desire of many to promote policies that encourage diversity in many facets of our public lifeparticularly in education and employmentis born of the belief that discrimination and its resulting inequities must be remedied through the direct intervention of affirmative action programs.  These policies, however, often collide headlong with our other commitment to meritocracythe belief that it is the most fair that positions or promotions go to the most talented or most qualifiedbecause some believe these meritocratic systems are reinforcing historic wrongs by penalizing individuals whose ancestors were denied advantages that more privileged groups now take for granted.  

It could be reasonably argued that a great deal of the stark political divide in America today revolves around vastly differing ideas regarding who is actually victimized by the non-meritocratic systems now often used to create a more fair society.  Those who are favored by affirmative action policies see it as a case of justice deferred being finally set right; those who feel college admissions or jobs are being handed to someone with fewer qualifications than them believe that their hard work is being ignored in pursuit of someone elses social justice goals, which are denying them opportunitiesor ruining their lives.  

The old joke that a conservative is a liberal who has been muggedmight actually be more accurate today if it stated that many conservatives are formerly liberal (or politically moderate) individuals who believe affirmative action policies have harmed them or their families.  I suspect that the shock of the 2016 Presidential election might be less surprising if we paid more attention to this perhaps pervasive factor, which is less indicative of systemic racism or sexism and more about an individual frustration with remedies that seem abundantly unfair to those caught on the wrong end of societys great solution to all that ails or divides us.

Our individual supportor lack of itfor affirmative action programs, reparations, or other programs and ideas designed to enforce fairnessare often directly related to our own beliefs about the current prevalence of racism, sexism, homophobia, and other attitudes that lead to discriminatory attitudes or behaviors.  Having no direct and reliable method to measure what is going on in everyone’s minds at each particular moment, we seem to have taken a better safe than sorryapproach in many educational and workplace situations, presuming that everyone has some level of hatred or disdain in their hearts and heads, which accounts for the popularity of workshops and training that are meant to promote greater sensitivity and tolerance toward all.  The obvious added benefit of teaching everyone how to be polite and sensitive is, in the minds of managers mandating more and more of this type of activity, the implied promise of avoiding the legal or regulatory actions that might result if everyone at your school or workplace has not signed a form confirming they have been explicitly informed that acting like a jerk is strictly forbiddennever underestimate the power of lawyers who crave a big payday when it comes to shaping our daily lives.

Those who look at the diversity of our political, cultural, and entertainment icons and see a cross-section that captures the amazing richness of our nationcombined with the election (and re-election) of Barack Obama to our nations highest officefeel that this is clear evidence our country has left its history of overtly hateful behaviors and laws far behind us.  Others, however, point to the election of Donald Trump and his administrations apparent lack of interest in pursuing affirmative action policies as equally persuasive proof of a white backlash that aims to quash the aspirations of many by reasserting discriminatory policies disguised as meritocracy.

All these discussions become even more fraught when matters pertaining to the use of standardized testing for school or college admissions are added to the discussion.  Many believe that evidence-based studies prove that these tests are either themselves discriminatory or actually act as proxies for measuring outcomes, such as family wealth and the resulting ability to afford pricey test prepcourses, that are nothing more than artifacts of historic discrimination.  Therefore, the continued use of these tests to determine admissions might perpetuate inequities and deny diversity.  

On the other hand, others point to the predictive value of these standardized tests regarding long-term academic and career success.  In addition, they believe that quota systems meant to circumvent themwhich in some cases have reduced the number of seats available to Asian-American students in order to admit Blacks and Latinos who scored lowerare a perverse and damaging rejection of the color-blind meritocracy these tests purport to promote.  

The resolution of the many lawsuits regarding these matters will likely only further inflame tensions regarding whether reliance upon standardized tests in admissions decisions is fairor not.  In addition, we have no assurance that the best efforts of schools and colleges to mitigate the effects of the many factors that impact academic readiness or success will not result in other types of subtle discrimination if human judgments and intuitions, which are sometimes flawed or easily manipulated, suddenly become the ultimate factor in determining admissions.  

Moreover, we have to worry whether ditching these standardized tests will ultimately result in the return of the old boy networkof personal connections in admissions decisions, which is exactly what the use of these tests was designed to end.  Will seats at the best schools end up going to children whose parents know how to twist the system and, sadly enough, return us to an incredibly unfair reality that at one time allowed those with wealth and power to readily and regularly perpetuate their advantages across generations by subtlyand often invisiblyusing their influence to open doors for their own children?

It is good that we have these conversations.  Our nations ongoing commitment to justice is a feature of our nation that we should celebrate at every turn, and the passions that inform these discussions are a tribute to the continued vibrancy of our civic culture.  The debate regarding the form, function, and outcomes of traditional meritocratic systems of placement and promotion has become a mirror reflecting a broader societal evaluation of our nations progressor perhaps lack thereofin creating a nation that is more welcoming toward all.  

How we parcel out seats at selective colleges and universities, whom we choose to govern us, what factors we feel are important in evaluating employee talent and performanceand ultimately how we choose to define ourselves and our communitieswill be that which will determine the direction of our diverse, fascinating, and argumentative country in the years and decades ahead.  Although the discussions of these issues often feature the worst insults and stereotypes being tossed about by some, we need to continue to pursue an evaluation of these questions and encourage thoughtful consideration of the moral and ethical matters that are inevitably raised as we proceed.

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House Of Lies

As odd as the thought might be, our daily lives are built around that which is unreal.  

We voraciously consume movies, television shows, books, magazines, and web-based content that is either entirely fictional or based on a true story, which means they are basically fictional.  The advertising we see and hear is hawking products and services claimingoften with the most specious of evidencethat we can be happier, thinner, more successful, more secure, smarter, sexier, or more popular for a seemingly modest purchase price.  Memoirists routinely shade the truth to present themselves in the best possible light.  Celebrities dazzle us with the assistance of armies of trainers, assistants, accountants, managers, and handlers who help ensure that their lovely lives seem effortless.  Even the supposed realityshows that we obsessively watch are carefully scripted and edited to provide enough faux controversy and fake drama to keep us tuned in for the next episode of someone elses exciting, miserable, or unbelievably screwed up life.

We search for truth where we can, but a great deal of the information made available to us has already been packaged in order to present a version of reality that is most easily sold to a particular target audience.  That which is carefully omitted or selectively presented often conceals a non-preferred truth, which helps with the task of manipulating our emotions, shaping our attitudes, and controlling our actions.

Choose any bit of news or information, and it is easy to see how editorial choices are crafted to elicit the desired response.  On one news feed I read about adult illegal alienscommitting heinous crimes; on another I read about adorable and innocent immigrantchildren hoping for better lives in America.  One moment I read of heroic women asserting sovereignty over their own bodies by choosing to have an abortion; five minutes later I learn of the intense pain a fetus feels as it is sucked from a womans womb. One expertassures us that we can have all of our needs taken care offor freeby taxing the super rich until they squeal; another is equally certain that this is mathematically impossible.  Truthis, as we typically learn as we get older, often dependent on who is doing the tellingand why.  Only the young or the hopelessly daft are foolish enough to abandon the cynicism that allows us to survive the mounds of mendacity (Yes, Im trying to use polite language here) that we now need to stomp through every day of our lives.

Truth is out there, but it can be unpleasant, unpalatable, and unsatisfactory.  Hence, we often choose to believe a version of reality that is less likely to cause us to squirm, or we simply ignore the messiness of the world around us altogether.  One of the reasons that our politics have slid toward the extremeswith political moderates ever more difficult to findis that practicality is predicated on some necessary incredulity.  Continued exposure to those who regularly deal in snake oil and bizarre fantasy tends to hollow out the sensible middle if we fail to leaven our naive faith with some clearheaded common sense.

We sometimes need lies to ease our many human fears, and sadly enough we are now cursed with a crop of political leaders who are happy to win our votes by cooing comforting nonsense.  To tell the truththat we cannot be offered protection from all of the worlds pain, despair, and injusticeis electoral suicide, so we are continually assured that with more laws, regulations, government programs, bureaucrats, mandates, tax increases, safe spaces, security cameras, oversight committees, bans, speech codes, censorship, permits, licenses, web policing, and fees we can eventually be cocooned in bliss.  Are we happy yet?

Those who are now proposing the next step, the use of Artificial Intelligence and computer algorithms to evaluate everyone in order to identify people who might (might!) someday pose a threat to others, are themselves terrifying; these individuals and organizations seem to be suggesting that life in an omnipresent, omniscientbut certainly not infalliblepolice state would be the most wonderful of all possible worlds.  That these ideas are considered credible and within reason seems to indicate that the domestic debate regarding delicate balance between freedom and security could be settled in a manner more Soviet than American.

Politics is, of course, theaterbut it should not be a theater of the absurd.  The lack of reality in so many of our national discussions, encouraged by feckless politicians and cheerleading media and celebrities, has led to policy impasses that forbid compromise due to an utter lack of consideration of costs and consequences by all involved.

The lies each side is able to tell because facts can now be treated as mere annoyances leaves our nation with no path forward, no hope for practicable solutions, and no ability for many to consider viewpoints other than their own.  Therefore, all we have left are the politics of personal destruction, which leads to endless attack and counterattack.  To assert this will lead to anything other than a hell of our own creation is the worst lie of all.

Beware The Good Intentions Of Government

One of the strange truths of history is that most of the miseries of our world are created by people who believe they are doing good. The nagging parent. The rigorous teacher. The disapproving minister. The desire to improve the lives of those around us tends to be expressed in a manner that irritates the ones whose lives are being improved, but sometimes it is true that a little tough love is the best love of all

The small scale efforts that we all make out of love or concern for others have the potential for much greater good—or disastrous harm—when amplified by the enormous power of government. Public safety, national defense, and public health are all typically enhanced by centralizing these functions in the hands of government and government officials, although we all understand that the keenest citizen oversight is necessary to avoid waste, mismanagement, or unwarranted intrusions into our lives. Government that works locally as often as is feasible, stays lean, and is responsive to the natural desire of Americans for the greatest possible personal freedom is government we can all support and celebrate.

However, government overreach combined with an all-too-human hubris regarding the excellence of both our high ideals and best intentions can cause catastrophes that reverberate from person to person, community to community, and generation to generation. It is perhaps fitting that so many of these high-minded efforts of various sorts are described as “wars” because they leave so many innocent victims in their wakes. We have fought a war on poverty since the 1960’s that has both failed to eliminate poverty and facilitated the creation of a permanent economic underclass. Over this same period of over 50 years, we have also fought a war on drugs that failed to eliminate drug abuse and has devastated cities and towns from coast to coast. We now are fighting a thousand other wars among ourselves and against our own government on many fronts, and the anger and frustration many now feel over constant and problematic “wars” on the ills of humanity has reached a boiling point—which has resulted in record low faith in government and trust in government officials.

A pure heart does not guarantee a pure outcome, but our desire to do good sometimes leads us to forget this. In addition, humility is often in short supply after an election because the first taste of power over the lives of others can be a frighteningly intoxicating brew. Those who aspire to the highest offices often, quite naturally, have the highest levels of personal and professional ambition; their private visions for how we all should live must, therefore, be considered with healthy doses of both caution and skepticism.

The “Green New Deal”, which aspires to evoke resonances of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal legislation during the depths of the Great Depression in the 1930’s—but which some have already dourly dubbed the “Green Deal Forward”, a sly reference to Mao Tse-Tung’s disastrous and deadly Great Leap Forward during the late 1950’s, both because of the scope of its soaring ambitions and the breadth of its mind boggling impracticality—has become a centerpiece of Democratic policy proposals looking forward to the 2020 elections.

This Green New Deal, which is a basket of ideas that is short on details but long on rhetoric, is a blueprint for a truly revolutionary reordering of the American economy that seeks to somehow transition our nation to a 100% use of renewable sources of energy, which would require ending the use of all fossil fuels altogether in order to reach a goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions. Income and job guarantees tied to the magical creation of millions of “high wage jobs” by—or at least through the beneficent auspices of—the federal government are tied to a radical reordering of our manufacturing, transportation, healthcare, and real estate sectors that would touch every aspect of our daily work and personal lives. While all of this was occurring, government and government officials would also be given new and unprecedented powers meant “to promote justice and equity” for everyone that will result in “economic security for all people” and the counteracting of “systemic injustices.” All of these will, by the way, happen during a window of only ten short years.

Attention, America! Ten years from now—if we agree to allow government to have total and complete power over every facet of our existences—heaven on earth is guaranteed.

As with our government’s previous wars on poverty and drugs, which were surpassingly modest efforts compared to the incredible dreams of the proposed Green New Deal, the powers of legislators, regulators, and law enforcement to monitor and control our nation would be greatly enhanced at the cost of our personal liberty. The huge bureaucracies (maybe that is where all those promised new “high wage jobs” would come from?) necessary to manage this earth-shaking endeavor would dwarf any growth we have previously seen in government employment—as well as the new taxes and fees that will obviously need to be enacted in order to pay for the costs of our new overseers.

Although the thought behind the Green New Deal—which is most closely identified with the Democrat’s new socialist superstar, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez—is predicated on the belief that a massive effort by government to eliminate fossil fuel usage is justified by evidence of global warming that has been caused by the fossil fuels themselves, the proposed legislation also sees this as an opportunity to enact a sweeping Social Justice agenda designed to right historical wrongs. Whether this is reasonable or practicable is a topic for ongoing discussion and debate, but the key environmental component is based on the idea that a very small window of opportunity exists to save the earth from global warming effects that would catastrophically impact life on our planet. Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez stated just last month that “The world is gonna end in 12 years if we don’t address climate change…” This doomsday pronouncement of our imminent demise would seem to justify the kind of extraordinary action that she is advocating, but many scientists are not endorsing this apocalyptic vision. However, creating a sense of blood-curdling fear and immediate crisis is useful when attempting to justify an extraordinary economic upheaval—by way of the Green New Deal—that might, in fact, be unjustifiable.

We already know that the track record of doomsday prophecies leaves much to be desired, but any good cult leader knows that fear both motivates your followers and binds them to you. Looking back along the course of my own lifetime, I remember many sage pronouncements that the end of the world was at hand, but I’m still sitting here today typing this—and trying to keep warm on a bitterly cold winter’s day. Given how little we truly understand about our planet and our ecosystems—much of what occurs in our deep oceans and beneath the earth’s crust is, for example, still a mystery to us—perhaps the merest touch of humility about the range of our knowledge is warranted. Moreover, our ability to manage the consequences of government mandates—much less an enterprise of the unbelievably vast scale of the Green New Deal—should perhaps require some humble reflection before we proceed.

Sometimes even the most heartfelt belief in our own knowledge and skills needs a bit of a brake. The aforementioned Great Leap Forward, which was meant to improve the lives of its people by quickly catapulting China to greatness through an extraordinary economic intervention by the communist government and its central planners, should perhaps serve as a clear warning. The program both failed to meet its economic goals and—because its authors could not foresee every possible consequence of this radical reorganization—led to the deaths by starvation of approximately 20 million Chinese. The most dangerous person in the world, when you review the history of our world’s miseries, is perhaps a government official who is convinced that there is no possibility whatsoever they… could… be… wrong.

Government-imposed solutions, as we know all too well, many times lead to government-created catastrophes because they fail to recognize that the many benefits of individual love and concern—which are sometimes expressed as nagging—do not necessarily scale up to the many misguided mandates managed by bureaucrats. Handing over control our future health and happiness to government officials who believe our freedoms must be subjugated to their own ideas about how we must live and work is certainly a step we must not take.

Can We Do Anything To Reduce Gun Deaths?

Back on December 30th of 2012, after the Newtown school shooting, I published a commentary in my local newspaper, The News-Gazette, regarding gun violence, and you can find the full text in my blog archive on this website. I have excerpted a portion of my thoughts at that time below:

Inevitably, each time another group of innocents are massacred, we talk about gun control—and we have yet another opportunity to shout at one another across the political, social, and regional divides that have riven our nation for too long. 
On one side, we hear the perfectly reasonable argument that erecting barriers to gun and ammunition purchases will make it more difficult for anyone to walk into schools, movie theaters, shopping malls, and houses of worship to slaughter and maim those whose only crime is to present a target of opportunity. On the other side we have the equally reasonable argument that the vast majority of gun owners are law-abiding citizens who cannot understand why restrictions should be placed upon them because of the actions of the very few; many times these solid citizens land in the extremist arms of the NRA, regardless of the nuances of their beliefs about gun ownership, simply because they have no one else defending their interests.
The end result is predictable. After much hooting and hollering, our various levels of government will pass laws that make few happy and protect virtually no one.

If we put more restrictions on legal gun ownership and ammunition sales, we will create yet more expensive bureaucracies that will devote scarce resources to the task of closely monitoring the activities of those who are least likely to commit a crime with a gun. If we increase the penalties for gun-related crime, we will add more time in jail onto the sentences of those who are least likely to be deterred by the presence of a new law and give them a little more time behind bars to lift weights and become further estranged from mainstream society. If we restrict the domestic manufacture of guns and ammunition, many jobs will move to other countries, and those who are willing to import weapons into the United States—by means both legal and illegal—will become stupendously wealthy thanks to dirt cheap overseas labor and high domestic demand
.
And if government officials should seek to confiscate the hundreds of millions of weapons now in the hands of our citizens, I have only one comment to make: good luck with that.

I continued that particular commentary by discussing the need for better access to mental health care because those who commit these heinous mass shootings are simply stark raving mad—and should have long ago been confined to a secure residential treatment unit.

Now, in light of the terrible mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida by a former student, I would like to revisit this topic and, given that I am no longer restricted by a newspaper’s word limit, expand a bit regarding how our nation should respond to this problem.

Although mass shootings are certainly horrible and terrifying, they account for roughly 2% of gun deaths each year; in comparison, suicides account for about 60% of the approximately 33,000 gun deaths in the United States each year. Neither mass shootings nor suicides are, of course, acceptable or normal events, but it is easy to see how the intense media attention to a much smaller number of deaths resulting from mass shootings has skewed our perceptions and public policy discussions. Far more lives would be saved if, for example, we developed comprehensive national programs to identify and assist those at risk of committing suicide.

Nonetheless, mass shootings create far more fear and concern, particularly when children or adolescents are targeted in schools and public places. A crazed person with a gun is every parent’s worst nightmare, and we quite naturally expect solutions that will protect all from harm.

Demanding that certain types of firearms be prohibited is a common reflex. The never ending clamor to ban assault weapons, which are actually only semi-automatic rifles that sport certain cosmetic features that endow a more military appearance, is a popular but ultimately misguided response. A pump action shotgun can do far more damage in many cases, and certain types of ammunition can render a semi-automatic handgun equally as deadly as either a rifle or a shotgun.

A recent article in The New York Times confirmed that roughly 173 people have been killed in mass shootings committed with the much maligned AR-15 since 2007, which works out to roughly 10 deaths per year. This is very sad, but far more people die each year by slipping in their bathtubs. Will banning this particular weapon actually save that many lives, or has media-driven panic displaced logical thought regarding the reality of this issue?

By the same token, a more comprehensive and reliable national system of background checks may stop some who plan to use firearms to attack others, but this solution is limited by the plain fact that black markets will always spring up to supply that which government seeks to prohibit—and anyone who is criminal or crazy enough to want a gun with which to kill can simply resort to theft or subterfuge to obtain what they want. Sane and law-abiding people follow the rules; crooks and cuckoos do not.

Proposals to ban the sale and manufacture of high-capacity ammunition clips and bump stocks, which can turn some semi-automatic weapons into ones capable of continuous fire—until their ammunition clips are exhausted after a few seconds—also crash into the issue of encouraging black market sales that will be impossible to either regulate or halt entirely.

Moreover, none of the gun control ideas that resurface every time a mass shooting happens adequately address the plain fact that the vast majority of gun owners are reasonable individuals who take the responsibilities inherent in possessing a firearm quite seriously and derive great personal satisfaction and security from exercising their 2nd Amendment rights.

So what are we to do?

I suggest that we stop chasing the chimera of gun control as a solution. I believe we should instead re-examine our understandable emotional responses and investigate targeted interventions designed to address different facets of the problem of firearm-related deaths and injuries.

More and better-funded crisis hotlines could be a good start to reducing the startling number of gun suicides. In addition, we need more programs in schools, workplaces, and places of worship to help identify and help those who are considering self-harm. We also need to develop resources to address the epidemic of crushing loneliness that afflicts our society. If we can help rebuild the frayed social connections that leave so many without someone to turn to for support and basic human interaction, we can perhaps begin to make a dent in the misery that makes so many believe that the only way to relieve their pain is to put a gun to their heads.

In addition, we need to reconsider a half century of progressive dogma that has expanded the “rights” of the mentally ill. Making it infinitely more difficult to commit those who pose a danger to themselves or others to mental hospitals, allowing those who could be helped by medication to refuse to take it, and leaving law enforcement virtually powerless to deal with threatening behaviors until those threats become actual harm to others that results in arrest is beyond foolish—these are criminally negligent abdications of our duty to protect our neighbors and communities. We must have both the tools and the power to save our citizens from the violently (or potentially violent) mentally ill—unless we want to keep reading the same horrible headlines again and again and again.

Finally, we need to reconsider to the level of violence in so much of our mass entertainment today. Exposure to the cruelty and outright sadism baked into so many television shows and movies is not healthy for anyone—but these constant violent images and ideas only serve to stoke the twisted fantasies of those who are emotionally unstable.

If you have any doubt that our standards have changed dramatically over the past fifty years or so, I encourage you to visit YouTube and watch a few episodes of the television series, Wild Wild West. This program was cancelled despite high audience ratings in 1969 because it was considered far too violent for a broadcast audience. Those who watch it now and compare it to our daily entertainment diet of death and dysfunction will find it as quaint as a doily in grandma’s front parlor. Our societal standards have dropped rather dramatically—and we are surprisingly blind to the corrosive effects that are evident wherever we look. It is unintentionally hilarious to remember that back in the 1950’s the U.S. Congress was busy crusading against the corrupting influence of comic books upon our children. What would those elected officials from our nation’s past think of our nation’s “entertainment” today?

I would be remiss regarding this issue were I not to address President Trump’s idea of arming trained and carefully selected teachers, administrators, and staff, who will respond immediately to active shooters inside of a school building. Although some rural schools have already taken this step because of the prohibitively long time it would take law enforcement to respond in an emergency, my belief is that this is not a policy we should implement on a national basis at this time.

I can easily imagine that students would be overly distracted by the knowledge that some in the building are armed. The inevitable guessing games regarding who it might be carrying a gun—for the identities of those who are armed would obviously need to be kept secret to protect them from becoming the first victims of an actual school shooter—could be more than distracting. Moreover, it is not too difficult to conjure up scenarios where accidents, neglect, or poor judgements could result in tragedy. Although—as we have recently learned from the tragic inaction of law enforcement in Parkland, FL—the professionals sometimes behave unprofessionally, we are still likely better off allowing local police and deputies to respond to a shooting at a school.

We have many challenges ahead of us regarding the plague of gun violence that afflicts our nation, and I hope we can work through them—reasonably, thoughtfully, and with a minimum of rancor. I would prefer that, rather than policymaking by sound bite, we convene a bi-partisan task force to evaluate all the potential solutions and make thoughtful recommendations. That which is done in haste and confusion can waste valuable time, finite resources, and have a great many unintended consequences. We owe it to ourselves and our country’s future to get it right this time.

Change Can Be Painful

I have been mulling over the concerning level of distress that now seems to infect so many of our personal and national conversations. Donald Trump is, to be certain, at the root of some of this because he refuses—or is simply unable—to finesse much of anything. President Trump finds the rawest possible nerve to rub at the most inopportune possible time—and keeps right on rubbing it no matter how loud the howls. I will agree with those who argue that he is an irritant; this is not much of a mystery.

It is, however, just as true that a great many problems we have tried desperately to ignore for decades are now impossible to avoid—and Donald Trump is many times simply the blunt instrument for our reckoning with unpleasant realities.

We are enslaved by public and private debt, the cost of medical care is outrageous, our public schools are failing many children, higher education is amazingly costly and often captive to ideological battles, homelessness and hunger haunt many, families and communities are fragmented, and there is a fairly pervasive sense that our governmental structures have devolved into self-serving parasites that pay little attention to the needs of those whom they claim to serve. All of this frustration and rage erupted last November, and our nation opted for chemotherapy over continued palliative care—hence at least some of the pain we are today experiencing. Aggressive treatment of our maladies is a shock to a system long accustomed to soothing platitudes and bland reassurance.

Now we have steep tax cuts and pointed discussions about reducing our expansive—and expensive—government structures. Tough questions are being asked about how to remake our healthcare and health insurance systems to reduce cost. Charter schools and school choice plans are corroding the public education monopoly. Higher education is suddenly having to justify both its mission and its stupendous cost. Public aid programs of all types are asking for much more responsibility from recipients. Zoning and tax policies that artificially inflate housing costs are under attack. People are pushing back against experts and policy makers who promote punitive and half-baked ideas regarding what is best for us.

As for government and government officials, they are disliked, distrusted, and disrespected by the vast majority of Americans—many of whom are now approaching a state approximating open rebellion. This is not surprising because our long national experiment with expanding government to provide endless freebies fueled by reckless borrowing has now crashed into the inevitable arithmetic of profligacy—eventually you run out of money. Avoiding real-life financial decisions by charging the spiraling costs of government programs rife with waste and inefficiency to future generations of taxpayers—who are now stuck with the tab—was loads of fun for elected officials who could keep handing out goodies without the political inconvenience of raising taxes to pay for them, but the incredibly large check for that stupendous party has now been dropped in our laps. Tough and divisive discussions are certainly ahead.

There is, in addition, a certain degree of anger generated by the very act of finally facing up to our problems. I find a good many of our recent hot-button debates concerning education, immigration, economic policy, and national defense seem animated by intense frustration over being forced to make hard decisions rather than being allowed to obliviously cling to questionable narratives and notions—heedless of cost or consequence.

After decade upon decade of waiting for improvements in hidebound public schools, parents are now demanding alternatives for their children. After abdicating control of our borders and endlessly extending the stays of those offered “temporary” refuge in America, enacting reasonable and long overdue immigration policy changes is a shock for a great many. Shrinking government and unshackling businesses from inane regulations seems very frightening to those who have grown comfortable with stultifying statist ideologies. Pushing back against terrorist groups and rogue states has terrified those who have forever counseled appeasement. At every turn, definitive and firm action has raised the hackles of those invested in bureaucratic inertia and willful ignorance.

It is clearly painful for some to have to abandon the familiar failures and pursue a new path. However, watching new charter schools succeed where others had failed, immigration laws and procedures being thoroughly debated and—President Trump’s alleged comments about “sh*thole countries” notwithstanding—vastly improved, business activity rising and unemployment shrinking while the stock market booms, and ISIS crushed at the same time North Korea is finally being forced to the bargaining table, it is increasingly difficult not to recognize that the time for a clean break with the failed ideologies of the past is right now. Bewailing successes that conflict with stale orthodoxy seems sillier by the day, and if we can stop imagining crises and instead work cooperatively to implement yet more fresh creative thinking regarding the issues facing our nation, we can likely achieve wonders.

Abandoning shibboleths is scary, adopting unfamiliar ideas is stressful, and accepting the necessity for change is upsetting. Nonetheless, we need to step out of our comfort zones and recognize that which is familiar may not be either helpful or good, and all the protests and complaints will not diminish the need for a thorough re-evaluation of ideas and philosophies that many have held dear for a very long time. We might not always be pleased—or even comfortable—with the decisions that are made as a result, but many times we—as a nation—will be better off.