America Is Greater Than Trumpism

We need a new generation of leaders who believe that our best days are ahead of us, not behind.
NASA concept for a lunar base (Wikimedia Commons)

NASA concept for a lunar base (Wikimedia Commons)

If you came of age as the internet exploded in scope and usefulness, orbital space stations were old hat, and our eyes were on a future where robots do all the boring, tedious work while we explore the solar system and discover the secret to longer, healthier lives. You could be forgiven for your boundless youthful optimism and the disgust at the world’s seemingly self-imposed slide into a micro dark age. We weren’t supposed to be re-litigating the last century of innovation, social progress, and science, and acting on it instead, not held back by obstinate, perpetually outraged and terrified senior citizen representatives hell-bent on raping and pillaging our futures on their way to the grave.

In the world of political junkies, so much boils down to a horse race between Republicans and Democrats, and countless political hacks explode in bouts of whataboutist verbal diarrhea in which they try to predict how elections a year away will pan out based on the latest tweet. But the predicament in which we find ourselves has little to do with red vs. blue, or liberal vs. conservative. The battle being waged is between past and future, ambition and mediocrity, opportunity and cowardice. It’s not what party wins that’s important, it’s what party offers policies meant to carry us forward.

America certainly has blemishes on its historic record and its problems. But it’s a country of strivers, pioneers, and explorers. It’s a country that went to the Moon on a dare because it wanted to show what it could accomplish. Our billionaires are working on reversing aging, curing terminal diseases, fixing education all over the globe, and colonizing space as their side projects. We don’t wall ourselves off from the world, we lead it by example. And we’re one of the very few countries that fights for the belief that all our citizens are created equal, and regardless of religion, birthplace, and skin color can contribute great ideas if given the chance.

Yes, it’s true that we’re far from perfect in living up to the ideals of equality in practice, and know we still have far to go, but when we fail, we’re starting to take a long, hard look at ourselves, even if it’s uncomfortable and those who don’t want to think about it try to shut their ears. We try to hold ourselves accountable to whether we’re living up to our lofty, self-mandated standards. Many other nations will whistle and turn the other way, pretending they don’t have problems with race, or that their ability to assimilate their immigrants and add them to their national identity as proud, productive citizens is a pale imitation of America’s. They’ll take it easy on themselves. We refuse to.

We don’t need to “make America great again” because it’s already pretty goddamn great. But right now, all Trump and his fan club are doing is lowering the bar for us because that’s all they’re capable of in the modern world. That and selling everything not nailed down to people for whom accumulation of money is less of a goal and more of a pathology, who won’t use it to make the world a better place but to create a landed gentry with their spoiled offspring as the new nobles at the expense of our future. Their only ambitions appear to be reveling in mediocrity, and as noted by numerous conservative pundits, heaping outrage and scorn at those who have the tools to succeed in the post-industrial world as they dream up excuse after excuse at why the blue states they loathe refuse to collapse in chaos.

Faced with a world where it’s no longer enough for them to be white and male, where they have real competition and merely punching the clock twice a day for 30 years at the same job gets them nowhere fast, they explode with rage and laments about being marginalized and sidelined by evil globalist and sinister powers that be. Like an Olympic swimmer who won gold , then spent four years guzzling hot wings and washing them down with beer instead of training harder for the next competition and finds his stats plunging to his genuine dismay, they believe they were entitled to be winners, to be number one, solely by the virtue of being born where and who they are. And they refuse to understand that this is no longer how the world works because it means accepting that they dropped the ball for over a generation.

We were meant for more than paying off the debts of our parasitic elders in a hurry to fund another war no sane citizen wants to fight or tax cuts that give private jet deductions like candy while penalizing teachers and scientists for not becoming wealthy and famous. The American project has never been about celebrating mediocrity and clinging to nostalgia which looks at the warts and ugliness of the past and holds them up as things to applaud for people who think that the only things that make America a superpower are white entitlement, guns, and flags, and whose moral compass appears to be not just lost, but intentionally broken.

Of course, after considering all this we have to ask ourselves some obvious questions. If letting modern neo-Nazis and living pseudo-intellectual fossils drag us by the hair into their caves with one hand while scraping the ground with the callouses on their hairy knuckles of the other is a dead end, how do we face the future? After all, the West spent the past decade seemingly living in a placebo democracy. We vote and go through all the rituals of elections, but our government seems intent on ignoring our feedback and repeating history. It’s little wonder that younger generations are losing faith that their vote counts or matters. How do we right the ship?

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Chris Barbalis)” class=”aligncenter size-full” />(Chris Barbalis)

We won’t find our answer in a lurch even farther rightward or leftward. We’ll find it in a balance of ideas the pundit class has forgotten are extremely popular and agreed upon by the majority of the public in just about every opinion poll. Swinging the pendulum between extremes has resulted in partisan ideologues screaming incoherent buzzwords past each other while dictating elections by dominating primaries and cheering the erosion of the popular vote through nationwide gerrymandering and voter suppression, creating what is in effect widely reviled minority rule.

Thoughtlessly shifting it from the far right to the far left just to do something else will only result in a backlash that will sink us right back into the same morass we’ve landed, if not worse. You’ve certainly heard this platitude from pundits before. But how exactly do we start gathering around the campfire and singing Kumbaya? Well, we go past the empty appeals to unity and working together to present concrete policy directions as a starting point. We won’t agree on all the specifics, but that’s why we have public discourse and compromise: to come to a mutual understanding.

Firstly, we must focus on making government more responsive. This means not being afraid of split ticket voting, making voting easier for everyone by making major, bi-annual elections holidays and holding off-season elections on weekends, as well as allowing vote-by-mail, and simple registration with no gimmicks that require voters to submit a box full of unnecessary, burdensome paperwork for some local hyperpartisan’s verification. It also means allowing computer algorithms which are only concerned with how many people live and where, draw districts rather than outsource this task to partisan commissions that allow politicians to pick their voters and ignore the popular will, knowing they’ll be easily reelected.

These are all relatively easy fixes with profound effects. The only downsides are that partisan hacks won’t be able to game elections they thought they had in the bag and will have to sell voters on their policy ideas instead of relying on party affiliation, and the flacks they appoint won’t be able to discard tens of thousands of votes willy-nilly in closely contested races. Despite these surely dire consequences, for the sake of keeping American democracy going, we should be willing to let our politicians deal with these inconveniences.

Secondly, one of the defining features of American governance is checks and balances. None of us wants the machinery of the state to become so large and far-reaching that bureaucrats thousands of miles away decide what potholes get filled in our cities and when. The larger and more integrated a group becomes, the more power those in charge of it wield, and the more silos and red tape they create. You can see this effect in any organization, but whereas a company can trudge on by the sheer will of its CEO, the government has to build consensus to keep working, which is why it’s harder to mask the dysfunctions of runaway bloat under the surface.

At the same time, we also don’t want a powerless government that can’t do much to affect change or help its citizens. There has to be something in between a nanny state with a benevolent despot or a reactionary autocrat at the helm, and 50 little fiefdoms politely asked to maybe consider some ideas as a team if they so kindly please by distant, impotent figureheads. Instead of talking about big government and small government, we need to talk about smart and efficient government.

Can we streamline how agencies operate with AI and automation? Can we start competitions for private companies to offer solutions to complex, real world problems and deliver them through public channels at a fair price? Can we introduce more competition and remove pro-monopolistic legislation to fix healthcare? Can we agree on where we need a light regulatory touch and where we need to come down hard? Governments are good at providing routine, basic services we barely even notice in the developed world. Let’s make sure they can do it in the most efficient way possible and partner them with private enterprises that can meet more complex demands and allow them to compete to see whose ideas work best.

Ultimately, it’s that partnership that ensures stability while giving room for innovation we want, not recite a simple mantra of “government bad, business good” or vice versa, and treating handing off a critical function to a company no one’s ever heard of or barely bothered to vet, or just buying what the public needs from the cheapest seller as automatic wins. Today, we’re paying outrageous amounts of taxpayer cash with subpar results and through clear conflicts of interest under this simplistic ideology, and we’ll waste hundreds of billions more if we don’t develop a saner relationship with the private sector, hold them publicly accountable for the contracting work they do, and ensure what they do is in the public’s best interest. And on the flip side, we can’t hobble them with arbitrary rules that interfere in free market competition.

Third, and finally, we need fewer lawyers and more scientists, engineers, and educators in office from younger generations. We’re headed down a road where we need science and technology to succeed in any capacity, so filling state and federal offices with wealthy old lawyers and former lobbyists like we’ve been doing, is the exact opposite of the direction we need to take. We need lawmakers who understand that the future is not with the sociopathic nihilism of far too many American elders but clean energy, experimental and curiosity-driven education rather than today’s learn-by-test mess, research and development, big projects, and revolutionary ideas. We need a generation of leaders who understand that our best days are ahead of us, not behind.

Even in their darkest hours, Americans relied on their constant optimism and willpower to overcome and thrive. Make no mistake, the “alt-right” that got Trump elected by a razor-thin margin in just three states is a temper tantrum created by fear, tribalism, and anger. They are the devil on our shoulder whispering dark and self-destructive thoughts into our ear. We know what the way forward can look like, and we know there‘s no shortage of brainpower and resources in this country to tackle our problems, unlike in Russia where brain drain and kleptocracy trapped society in a decades-long stasis.

What we really need to do is stand up and say enough to noxious nostalgia masquerading as the supposed voice of the working class, roll up our sleeves, and get to work on our future. We’ve done it before. We can do it again.

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