Like a lot of you, my last 7 days have felt like 7 years. And I’m sure many of you, baffled by the vote of some of your close friends who are smart, kind, caring people with big, big hearts, are trying to understand each other, talk to each other without breaking into a fist fight.
I read a Harvard review article on ‘understanding white working class’ and my friend pointed out that it is not just white working class that that applies to, it applies to middle class, white or not, immigrant or not, American or not.
He further went on to say that no matter what else a person standing for election says, if his main agenda is to increase jobs, he is going to vote for that person so that the mouths that need feeding get fed. He said it is the poor that get supported by the government and the rich that never have to worry about food. It is the middle that deals with having to give up a larger share of income by comparison to support the poor. I can see how and why this creates resentment. After a good hour of argument, I concluded, for some, having a good paying job in the short term will always win over quality of life in the long term.
As am immigrant professional who came from a bustling metro to small town America, it has always fascinated me how small towns survive. The small town watering hole in a one industry town where mingling happens is only slightly different from the local coffee shop in the slightly more urban place. But that bar is going to live a lot longer, the coffee shop will be replaced by a falafel store then a yoga studio or Payless and yet again the art gallery because that slightly bigger town is used to change in a way that the small town is not equipped to handle.
What if in that one industry town, your kid grew up hating that industry or not having an aptitude for it, moves out. Then what? What energy contributes to it? Times change and economic cycles happen. What if that industry becomes moot? Why did Youngtown die with dying of American steel? And how come Cleveland keeps attracting new talent through Cleveland Clinic. And what can and could be done about it?
There isn’t a way to turn back time. There isn’t any effective way to rein in a flood. All these short term fixes of tax code tweaks and tax breaks and pipelines and rebuilding roads are not going to, in the end, bring about a long term solution. The only thing that does is learning what to do in the new economy. It is as the cliché goes, learn to catch up with the change and not work fruitlessly to reverse it. When the last semi truck becomes driverless, what will the truck driver feed his family? His son will learn how to become a part of solution by looking for a place in that new economy but what about the dad? Clean energy, technology, robotics, health sciences, agriculture, food industry, efficient construction and infrastructure are the tomorrow that is almost here. Shouldn’t finding a way to fund training for the new tomorrow help more than voting for someone to turn back time? Yesterday always looks simpler in the mirror but was it ever? Doesn’t every generation feel times are more complicated than the previous?
It is not an American problem – it is a global problem. There should be a way to work well enough but for having a quality of life, where corporate productivity demands are not so suffocating and that a good hard worker has time to enjoy a well balanced family. A lifestyle that doesn’t need you to go big and supersize with every passing decade for happiness. But if a politician could solve that problem, he would be God or a snake oil salesman.
The same problem plagues climate change. it is impossible to create an urgency for saving our environment that supersedes having a job, no matter the cost. Digging up natural gas and coal may kill your lungs and destroy your house in small earthquakes but in the meanwhile it will be cheaper to warm the house and have air conditioning in cars as you drive to the oil rig for a nearly not enough paying job. Destroying mother earth for short term gain in pocket change is very last century. I think prolonging longevity of energy sources and expanding alternatives should be something everyone should be able to get behind without hiding behind jobs. We all would like clean running water to not run out.
But politicians will never show you the longview because they need your votes today.
Another point of argument is ‘America first’. Which country can sustain power by being inwards looking? How does a country that has its influence bleed through veins covering more geography than any other country, withdraw? And what is the consequence? Americans did gain something in that trade, it may not look like a lot – cheap clothes, electronics, small machinery, food and so on. American salaries are not going up as fast as cost of living. If the nationalistic fervor catches on, are Americans going to make enough money to buy the very expensive cars and shirts and shoes and phones made in the USA? Is that kind of self sufficiency a realistic goal in today’s world? Or has that ship sailed and it is a lot smarter to have an upper hand in creating a strong infrastructure for trade? Aren’t we better off exporting more GE products, aircrafts, pharmaceuticals, infrastructure and security and importing what is cheap?I cannot judge what is short term gained or long term lost here at this point. But I desperately hope plutocracy doesn’t end up filling the vacuum made by in the dismantling of trade structure, where rich get richer and day to day goods become out of reach for others.
American exports are many, tangible and cultural. And most are to gain goodwill to keep the balance that is needed for a secure global world. Today, by closing doors to refugees and alienating Muslims around the world, all that was achieved was creating in minds of a 1000 more children a deeper hatred for Americans for not doing their share in helping them, when they very well could. Everytime a bomb kills someone – terrorist or civilian, a child who is watching learns quickly that the world is not fair. And to deal with that, he names an enemy. Today, America became an enemy to more kids than it was yesterday. How short sighted is this path ro security then? However one sided the Iran deal was or the extension of friendship to Cuba was – the goal achieved was, timely planting of seeds of goodwill. Nobody should be alienating more and more and more people till the only friend you have left is a deranged Russian President who only cares to have his sanctions lifted. What has ever been achieved by bravado that has been more important than diplomacy?
If you don’t see your competition or enemy as human first, they certainly will be happy to return the favor.
I hope that my well meaning friends on the other side of my political beliefs will open their hearts and minds just as we on this side pledge to understand what having a good paying job means to them. But can we atleast agree that discriminating people by race, religion, sexual orientation, creating “alternative facts” and libeling all press as “dishonest media”, restricting press, freedom of expression and curbing science and arts, selling national lands to oil industries and such shennigans takes us back to dark ages – not make us great. Again. Or ever.