In every period of history, people living at that time feel “We have never had so many challenges.” We are no different today – many of us have that exact feeling right now.
We have had great divisions in our past (we did have a civil war, after all). Still, one could make the case that critical factors are now coming to bear in dangerous ways.
It feels as though we as a nation are standing on a piece of ground surrounded by four mighty “rivers.” Rivers are powerful and full of potential to nourish, clean, and transport us.
Rivers are also capable of washing away everything we know in violent flooding. They seem more inclined to the latter when we have polluted and misused the river. Let’s look at the four “rivers” around us now to measure our opportunities and our risks.
The Constitutional River: The founder’s checks and balances have been our pillars of stability. Historically, even when the president had majorities, congress asserted its independence when necessary.
This Congress, not so much. This should worry institutionalists of any party. Even on an easy issue, like Trump’s tariffs, this congress frets, but no action. They could reverse this action handily. The current “leadership” has little appreciation for constitutional and historic roles. They respond only to party and only to the chief of another branch of government.
Checks and balances are irritatingly inefficient, but they are our safeguards to keep us from drifting into the deep, fast currents of unfettered power. If only the Speaker of the House and the Senate Majority Leader had a sense of history. We are raising a generation of political leaders who think what we have now is the norm and is OK. It is not.
The Social River: Much has been written about the tribalization of American society. We seem unable, or at least disinclined, to find a way to engage with each other short of yelling at each other. We have always had tensions and conflicts, but not like this. Some of us are NEVER going to agree and do us all a favor not to be in the same room at the same time. But I remained convinced that this is not the case for even the majority of us.
This goes way beyond civility, although that is not a frivolous issue either. If we cannot talk to each other beyond stating our beliefs, we have little prospect for better days. Those who disagree with us are not going away. The sooner we recognize that, the sooner we can try to find common ground. Then we can call out those unwilling to even try as part of our problem.
The Political River: There are two dangerous undertows in this “river.” One is linked to the civility issue. If the other guy is not only wrong, but is automatically immoral and unpatriotic, we are in permanent conflict – the first undertow.
To be clear, some people are unpatriotic and immoral. But the fact that you and I disagree on some issues does not necessarily mean either of us is beyond salvation. We all know exceptions to this, people and positions that are unacceptable. I am willing to assume we can find some room to maneuver until proven otherwise. The alternative as a starting position should be unwelcome by us all.
The second undertow is the feeling that unlimited influence of money and gerrymandering lead to a spreading feeling that the political system is as rigged as the economic system. If enough people come to believe their votes do not matter at all, you begin to create a class of people with nothing to loose and no faith in their society. This does not end well.
The Economic River: This is a slower moving “river,” but the currents are troubling. Economic and opportunity inequality, is now a feature of American life. Polls confirm that most Americans (even Republicans) find the system rigged for the wealthy. This is corrosive and – Un-American.
Add to that the impacts coming from the current Administration’s policies. A tariff war with our allies and with China will hurt all. It will hit especially hard those in manufacturing and allied industries. Jobs will be lost, and America’s economic power is being further eroded. Already the EU and China are talking about the future of the international economy. The US is no longer a leader, but an obstacle to be worked around. The price for that lost influence over the world economy will not be easily regained.
The interesting thing about these four “rivers” is that they mandate no set outcome. Anyone of these could turn out better, with the social and political will . Yellow Dog Democrat or passionate Trumpster, you have nothing to gain if any of these rivers wipe us out.
It would be nice on this week of America’s 242nd birthday we decided to find some things to agree on. We can ensure those rivers sustain us instead of drowning us. Will we?
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