Biden Won, But We’re All Losing
Many of us are breathing a sigh of relief, now that Biden has been declared the winner of the 2020 Presidential election. I include myself among them. My family fled war and oppression for the freedom and stability that America offered. To see those incredible institutions undermined, to see our leaders divide us, to see democracy threatened, have been very upsetting for me. Unfortunately, the divisions we feel today didn’t start with Trump and they won’t end with him.
Recently a college friend shared his election insights on a Facebook post. As an outsider, he has a unique perspective that I appreciate:
I grew up with these people in rural upstate New York, and I was surprised by how quickly my Kuwaiti friend understood them and their concerns. An understanding that still evades the Democratic Party.
While Democrats may talk about “uniting Americans”, and “there’s no red or blue America, just America,” their policies benefit a very specific group of people. These people tend to be urban and suburban, affluent, liberal, and part of the knowledge-based economy.
Small-town and rural voters are very different. They haven’t felt the benefits of the knowledge-based economy, so the policies and laws promoted by the Democratic party don’t really resonate with them. They’re more concerned with agricultural policies, mining, manufacturing, the military, and family values. The Republican party has done a much better job of respecting their worldview, and so the party has earned their votes.
That being said, neither party has truly addressed the concerns of small-town America. These people have seen a steady decline in their situation under both Republican and Democratic administrations. Farming is less lucrative, and manufacturing has left their communities. In the past they would graduate high school and get great-paying jobs at the local factory. Today, they may find a minimum-wage job at Walmart. They feel like they’ve been sold out.
“The world didn't take America's jobs, America let the world have them without investing in a path to new ones because politicians were more interested in tax cuts, and corporate America was more interested in short term gains.”
– Linette Lopez, Business Insider
This is one of the many reasons why Trump, a man that doesn’t sound like a politician, has resonated with small town and rural voters.
The Problem with Political Parties
While parties may talk about uniting the country, their financial well-being is dependent on winning elections, which is dependent on donations, which is dependent on winning elections. Winning has naturally become an end in itself. This reality has forced these parties to push a harder line each election cycle, further demonizing the other side. Now each party portrays how the other is determined to destroy the country. Therefore, when each gains control, they push laws and policies that appeal to their constituency and disregard the other side.
The truth is we are divided. We now operate under two economic systems in this country, a rural agricultural-industrial economy and an urban knowledge-based economy, each requiring different policies to grow and flourish.
Troublingly, something similar occurred in the run-up to the Civil War. Those states that were benefitting from the Industrial Revolution had very different interests and needs than those agricultural states that relied on slave labor. Many attempts were made to address this issue, but it escalated in their two-party political system, and was only resolved by a Civil War.
I pray history doesn’t repeat itself. Unfortunately, factions and parties have repeatedly caused serious problems. George Washington’s own family fled England to escape their civil wars. Again, at the beginning of the United States, Washington was concerned that the developing frictions between Jefferson and Hamilton would tear the country apart. That was the reason he served a second term, and when he finally left office, he also left this warning:
“The common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.” – George Washington
Washington wasn’t alone, many of the other founding fathers were against the idea of political parties.
Is Conflict Inevitable?
There were times in US history when tensions rose, but then also dropped-off without widespread violence. A great example of that was the Second Red Scare, which finally wound down after Senator McCarthy lost credibility. Many lives and reputations were ruined by McCarthyism, but after accusing the US Army and war heroes of disloyalty, his support was lost.
While sad, this is also encouraging. It means that if we as a people see through the lies being told, and call out those stoking the flames of fear, we can bring it to an end. As a society we have to make a conscious choice, of not buying into the rhetoric. It’s difficult, as there’s always an element of truth in rhetoric, but when we scratch below the surface we see its falsehood as well.
I’ve heard accusations flying in both directions, but one stands out in my mind, that Republicans are racist because they know Trump is racist and they still support him.
The truth is, life is far more complicated than this simple statement. Let’s imagine a couple scenarios. If I’m having a hard time feeding my family, then my priority is survival. I may be willing to overlook some racist comments if I believe a candidate is going to help me feed my kids. However, if I live an upper middle-class life and I’m thinking about the world I’m going to leave to my children, racial and environmental issues might be a priority for me. I may overlook the immediate needs of the poor because I don’t see it, instead I see myself leaving a more racially and environmentally just future to my children.
Both of these scenarios are rational and reasonable, based on the circumstances these people find themselves. Neither is evil, but both are overlooking the needs and priorities of the other. The truth is both people can have what they want. Their needs aren’t mutually exclusive. However, our two-party system forces us to choose between these two priorities. It’s a false choice.
So, What Can We Do Now?
Our politicians have failed us, our media has failed us, and so now the responsibility has fallen on us. It’s not fair, but it’s reality. The single most important thing we can do to change our situation is to listen to one another, rather than speaking down to one another. Shaming people is a great way to build up walls of mistrust and hate. We’ve had enough of that. Now is a time for empathy. Now is a time to be better than our leaders.
Below I’ve outlined some governmental and individual level steps we can start taking, to help heal this rift, but I’m not an expert. This is just a conversation starter. I hope people out there have even better ideas on how we can get past the idea of a red America and blue America. Not just in the rhetorical sense, but in a real and tangible way.
On the governmental level …
- Develop Job Training Programs – Since Nixon “opened China” in the 1970s, not to mention the growth of Japanese manufacturing in the 1980s, and globalization more broadly, politicians and business leaders have known there would be a mass exodus of manufacturing jobs from the US. If they didn’t, then they should have as soon as they saw American factories closing at an alarming rate. So, where were the policies to promote new opportunities? Where were the massive job training programs to prepare Americans for the jobs of the future? There wasn’t one!
To address the resulting shortage of skilled labor, we brought in high-skilled foreign workers. Americans in the heartland see this and wonder why it’s not them benefitting from these opportunities. While I’m a huge proponent of immigration, at the same time we can and should be promoting job training programs for Americans.
Now is an especially opportune time to address this huge “oversight.” Training programs, especially in rural America, can ride this wave of remote work. Many tech companies are now hiring full time remote positions. Even the insurance company my brother-in-law works for recently hired a remote IT person located on the east coast. This trend, combined with policies and training to ensure rural America benefits from these new high-paying opportunities of the knowledge-based economy will do a lot to bridge the economic gap, while saving these companies money on office space and salaries.
- Create Infrastructure Programs – With the increase in remote work, our national technology network will need to be revamped to provide everyone with affordable, reliable, high-speed access to the internet. An infrastructure program that builds this network will provide jobs, some ongoing. This program can be expanded to roads, bridges and other elements of our crumbling infrastructure. In addition, the federal government can further expand this program to build sustainable energy farms, increasing the rate at which we convert to renewable energy, and again further integrating rural America into our modern growing economy.
- Pass Universal Basic Income (UBI) – Most people prefer to work and earn a living, rather than get free money. However, as we transition from the old economy to a new one, we must ensure that individuals don’t fall between the cracks. A UBI ensures that everyone can survive, and even thrive. It has many high-profile supporters in Silicon Valley, including entrepreneurs like Andrew Yang who have seen their startups, in combination with automation and outsourcing, dramatically reduced the number of jobs in the economy.
This trend is going to continue. In the not-too-distant-future we’re going to see an increase in drones and driverless cars, so taxi and delivery jobs for Amazon, Uber, Lyft, Grubhub, Instacart, and even tractor trailer delivery, will disappear. Cashiers will also find themselves out of jobs as the checkout process gets further automated. A UBI doesn’t just allow a person to survive, it gives them an opportunity to work on their own business without the fear of starving or going homeless. While some may choose to just live on this money, many others will use it as an opportunity to do what they love and monetize it. Some will create handmade items that they sell on Etsy. Others will become influencers and entertainers on social media. Some will even create products and new technologies in their garages.
- Abolish Lobbyists – Lobbying is nothing short of legalized bribery. If politicians need more information on a topic, they can hire non-partisan subject matter experts. Corporations and other organizations can also speak directly to politicians about their concerns. However, no money or favors should be changing hands.
- Abolish Political Parties – I know this sounds crazy. But political parties were not included in the Constitution and Washington himself warned us of their dangers. One potential solution that’s been discussed is publicly funded elections, with each candidate receiving equal government funding. This eliminates the conscious or subconscious desire of politicians to serve those that donate to them. It also allows independent candidates to run, without the backing of a party. That being said, there are other solutions that can and should be discussed.
On the individual-level …
- Build Bridges – Understand your neighbors, friends and family who have different political opinions. What are their concerns? What keeps them up at night? None of us are evil, we just have different priorities and needs. Let’s respect those differences and maybe even work together to create innovative ways for everyone to get what they want.
- Call Your Elected Officials - Tell them about the governmental policies you want to see enacted (abolition of lobbyists, abolition of political parties, creation of jobs programs, creation of infrastructure programs, and passing of a universal basic income). Let them know that you expect them to represent everyone, and not just in their rhetoric. Share innovative ideas you and your friends have developed to ensure that everyone’s interests are represented.
- Get Politically Active – Of course vote, but also join and even found your own groups to promote the changes you want to see in this country. Politicians and the media have shared their vision for America, one that tears us apart and doesn’t offer solutions. It’s time for us to stand up and take steps to create a future where all Americans feel respected and hopeful.
As I said, I hope this starts an important conversation. Please share your thoughts below.