The problem that causes so many problems

Opinion: Ken Trainor

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By Ken Trainor

Staff writer

We've got problems. Oh my, have we got problems. So many I can't list them all (it would only depress you). So many we can't address them all.

So we need to prioritize. Triage. If we can identify and address the central problems, that will in turn help us address many, many more.

The number one problem — for the world — is climate change. Compared to rendering the planet unlivable, all our other problems pale. Switching from fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy will then alleviate myriad related problems.

The second is economic inequality. We're living in another "Gilded Age" where the oligarchy controls most of the wealth, which has produced a brutalizing system where the few have too much and the many have too little. If you want to find out more, Google economist Thomas Pikkety's book, Capital in the 21st Century. Scary stuff.

The third is our dysfunctional federal government. But it's really our most pressing problem because without a functioning federal government, we can't effectively address the others.

In other words, our biggest problem is not the sheer quantity of our problems. Our biggest problem is those who are preventing us from addressing our problems, those who have a vested interest in not solving our problems, who actively work to prevent such efforts.

Which means the biggest problem in our country today is the Republican Party. 

They have raised obstruction to an art, their primary weapons being unrestricted campaign donations (thanks to a conservative majority on the Supreme Court), gerrymandered congressional districts (assuring them control of the House of Representatives for the foreseeable future), filibuster abuse (preventing passage of legislation in the Senate without 60 votes, a very high bar for either party), and cutting spending for programs that help those who need it most.

As the cliché goes, government can't solve all our problems. On the other hand, we can't solve our problems without government.

The Republican philosophy of government is: Don't. Doing nothing is always better than doing something. Better yet, prevent the other guys from doing anything. The problem is, when you do nothing, our problems worsen, which spawns further problems.

Republicans have two constituencies: The wealthy and the disgruntled (usually non-wealthy white people who believe "their" country is being stolen by undeserving minorities). 

Republicans like to call the wealthy "job-creators," but they're also "problem-creators." The factory owner makes goods and creates jobs (that's good), but if toxic residue from the factory pollutes the environment, people get sick and the climate changes, which cause problems that multiply exponentially. Preventing the factory's "side effects" is expensive and cuts into profits, so the owner buys influence with elected officials to dissuade them from passing laws that would prevent or address the problems the factory creates. So they fester, compounding our troubles.

Meanwhile, the good-hearted, socially responsible people — of which there are many, especially in these two towns — become problem-solvers. The serve as antibodies, battling the problem-creators and their purchased representatives. But the problem-solvers' efforts are decentralized, scattershot. We run around helter-skelter trying to solve problems that proliferate faster than we can address them. 

Which is why we have to triage, i.e. focus our efforts and unite against the main problem that causes most of the other problems: i.e. the Republican Party.

Bill Clinton, in his first inaugural address, said, "There is nothing wrong with America that can't be fixed by what's right with America." I firmly believe that. All of our problems are solvable. That's the good news. The bad news is: If we don't fix what's wrong with America, it will undermine what's right with America. That's already happening.

And what's most wrong with America at the moment is the inability to address our problems.

The Republicans' playbook is very effective. Try to sucker angry voters into blaming all their troubles on the other guys. Once elected to office, screw things up so badly (e.g. 2000-2008) that when the other guys get elected, they have to spend most of their time trying to clean up the mess (obstructed every step of the way). When the mess finally starts to have a major impact on people's lives, the electorate looks around for someone to blame and guess who's in office? The ones trying to clean up the mess. So angry voters return the culprits to office again.

Talk about a self-defeating cycle. 

Here's what needs to happen: Keep electing Democratic presidents until one of the conservative Supreme Court justices retires or dies, at which point the majority shifts back to the progressives. With that impediment out of the way, the changing electorate (increasingly diverse) hands the reins of power to the Democrats (who are imperfect but the only ones trying to "do something" about our problems). 

This is not the time for third and fourth parties, which would only intensify the chaos and gridlock. 

Once a functional "do-something" federal government and progressive Supreme Court are in place, we can begin to address the problems that have been causing so much misery. That will allow what's right with America (its problem-solvers) to work more effectively on solving what's wrong with America.

A friend tells me I'm naïve — that the real root and cause of all these problems is the sickness of greed, power and violence, which already make our planet unlivable (Vladimir Putin is the current poster boy). She's right, but until we figure out how to change human nature (and accelerate human evolution), we'll still need to focus on the problems generated by the dark side. Meanwhile, the best antidote for the corrupting influence of power is the power of people who vote.

The demographics are more and more in our favor with every election. A new progressive era is beginning. It may be too late for the 2014 congressional elections, which are only six months away — though I keep hoping for a genuine progressive uprising. 

But if the Republicans do take over both houses of Congress and continue to let our problems fester for two more years, come 2016, the electorate may finally be fed up enough to throw these bums out.


Reader Comments

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Howard Hunter  

Posted: May 10th, 2014 8:56 AM

Oy, Marty is right. Calling the Democratic Party the "Democrat party" is a dog whistle to the Right. As you must know, GWB liked giving nicknames, and this is an extension. It bothers Democrats, because the proper name is Democratic Party. It is what the party calls itself. See: Personally, I think giving nicknames like that is a BS power move, to rob people of their own identity and project the namecaller's name. You may not realize it, but that's what's happening.

Ray Simpson from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: May 10th, 2014 6:27 AM

@rj - well said - friend!


Posted: May 9th, 2014 6:58 PM

Shawn, responding to misguided liberals like you & Ken is, God knows, a worthy cause -to those who want to stifle free speech & are so immature they can't handle diversity of ideas & common sense solutions. California Illinois Detroit the direct result of liberalism yet liberals too delusional to recognize inane failed policies & want to continue with more of the same. We won't stand down to the miserable, irresponsible chaos liberalism has created for decades to all segments of our society.

Shawn from Oak Park  

Posted: May 9th, 2014 4:26 PM

@Ray--now we know it runs in the family. Why is it that every right-leaning wingnut spends so much time commenting here. Go get a job, volunteer for a worthy cause or read a book.

john murtagh from oak park  

Posted: May 9th, 2014 2:33 PM

Jim B, what is the other way around? Long on Argument?, Short on Opinion? Long on Short? or Short on Long?

Ray Simpson from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: May 9th, 2014 11:37 AM

My son once commented that his uncle (wife's brother in law) was the worlds leading authority on absolutely nothing with a profound opinion on absolutely everything. Uncle Guy and Ken were cast from the same mold I think.

Jim Bowman from Oak Park  

Posted: May 9th, 2014 4:07 AM

Ken: long on opinion, short on argument. I prefer it the other way around. Also, global condemnation not always, not usually, helpful.


Posted: May 9th, 2014 2:15 AM

Someone calling someone else "repugnant"??? Both parties are "democratic" hence the popular use of "democrat". Don't you think someone would have corrected McConnell otherwise? And regards the article -- it's just the same old same old of calling the other party names and stating what "they" think in some sort of oversimplified, sterotypical way.. Ken Trainor, since you seem to be a "democrat" why don't you tell us what the democrats think? Or write an article about why folks don't do that.

Ray Simpson from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: May 8th, 2014 11:04 PM

@Trey - you sure seem intolerant of everyone who you deem to be intolerant! Those of us who disagree with Ken have, for the most part been pretty respectful! Can you say the same?

Trey O'Hannity from Oak Park  

Posted: May 8th, 2014 10:35 PM

As repugnant as I find Ray Simpson, Brian from Oak Park and the other assorted carnival barkers on the right, I keep coming back to look at these comments. The first step is acceptance. Must seek help.

Jack Hughes from Chicago, Illinois  

Posted: May 8th, 2014 10:00 PM

Lenin must have had Oak Park and the Wednesday Journal in mind when he coined the phrase "useful idiots"!

Marty from Oak Park  

Posted: May 8th, 2014 4:18 PM

Thanks for telling it like it is, Ken. Don't let the turkeys get you down. (Note to some commenters: It's "Democratic" party, not "Democrat" party. You don't want to sound like Mitch McConnell, do you?) ;-)

Jack Hughes from Chicago, Illinois  

Posted: May 8th, 2014 3:59 PM

it's not every Republican folks - it's those mean ole Koch bros!!

Bill Dring from Oak Park  

Posted: May 8th, 2014 3:27 PM

Ken Good going. This is an accurate analysis of what is wrong with our national government. It appears to me that many of the commenters dis not read you whole column.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: May 8th, 2014 2:00 PM

This is an opinion piece. From the few columns of Ken's I've read, they are kind of a stream-of-consciousness narrative about one guy's opinion. You can't really debate opinion, can you? I don't understand the point of even trying.

Ray Simpson from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: May 8th, 2014 1:39 PM

As repugnant as I find this column, a close reading shows that Ken has expressed his opinion without a shred of fact to back it up. He has every right to have this opinion and those who agree with him owe it to those of us who hold opposing views to extend the same courtesy. Ken is a progressive ideologue who truly believes that government will take care of us so long as we believe the same way they do. Here in Illinois we have seen the result of that unwavering trust and dedication and many of us know who to blame. Why would a progressive government in Washington be any different than the progressive government we have here at home? Compares apples to apples in my book!

Brian Slowiak from Westchester  

Posted: May 7th, 2014 10:27 PM

Ken completely discounts the fact that the Democrats held the majority in The Federal Senate and House and the White House and Barry did nothing on global warming.immigration and the debt and its The republicans in the minority who are at fault.

Brian from Oak Park  

Posted: May 7th, 2014 3:56 PM

I still can't believe that Ken Trainor would put pen such a vitriolic, divisive piece. As a self described peacemaker, it just doesn't make sense. He knows how awful the Democrat Party of Illinois has been for this state. There must be something wrong. Or, maybe he's just as Lorne Michaels indicated with, "Republicans are easier for us (SNL) than Democrats. Democrats tend to take it personally". Ken, are you just stirring the pot or what, cause this piece was just weird?

Dutch Elm  

Posted: May 7th, 2014 3:53 PM

If you look back over a year of comments on Ken's columns you will note that things have been awfully quiet lately. Anyhow, ginning up the villagers with screeds like this one always seems to bring out the torch and pitchfork crowd. Too bad. The Dems created this Frankenstein Castle of a government. Last I heard, Metro DC is the wealthiest area in the USA. Go figure.

Paul from Oak Park  

Posted: May 7th, 2014 2:53 PM

Problems related to governance are not limited to the Republican party. Oak Park borders Chicago, which has had dominant Democratic governance for decades, and leaders with no compunction about selling public services to private vendors. Plus, the most disenfranchised of Chicago citizens haven't really been helped by the government leaders. The state of Illinois has been in Democratic control for a long time, and yet we are worse off than the citizens of neighboring states in GOP control.

Ken Trainor-Joke  

Posted: May 7th, 2014 2:11 PM

No Ken, the biggest problem today are media pundits such as yourself masquerading as journalists. This goes for both sides of the aisle, since every point you made above could easily swap Democrat for Republican. By the way, have you read a Supreme Court opinion lately? (outside of the Media Matters cliff notes). What's with Breyer (a liberal!) siding with the majority in Navarrette v. California? Learn something before you write.

Shawn O'Brien from Oak Park  

Posted: May 7th, 2014 1:50 PM

@OP545--it is unlikely, impossible really, that this piece could make you any less intelligent than you already are. That ship has sailed. Republicans took the position in 2009 that they would not allow government to do its job as long as President Obama was in office. They have done their level best to fulfill that promise, to the detriment of the country. The GOP, any its sycophants on this page, start every discussion from a position of hate, jealousy or greed. No way to run a country.

Hmmmmm..... from Oak Park IL  

Posted: May 7th, 2014 1:48 PM

Ken - the republicans at the national level are PART of the problem, but no more so than national democrats. Your piece must have been good to get off your chest, but it is simplistic and one sided in the extreme and if you think about it, reflects the same hard headed not give an inch approach that you decry in republicans. I read your piece as my way or the highway. Not a real useful approach in real life.

Brian from Oak Park  

Posted: May 7th, 2014 1:39 PM

@I'm with Ken... Of course you are. Wearing a bucket over your head that's buried in the sand up to your ankles. Sorry for the crudity, but, it seems some people feel the need to name-call. For instance your "flat earth" comment. Or John Hubbuch's (last week) "global warming deniers and short-sided misers". Seriously? Is this all the left has to offer any more? No discussion, just hate?

Brian from Oak Park  

Posted: May 7th, 2014 1:28 PM

Ken, completely disagree with this column, but see your argument completely disregards Illinois. Which in my book is a poster child of Democrat solutions. The Democrat's so-called mandate in 2008 completely ignored Republican input and that lead to "I guess we'll know what's in it when we pass it". Followed on by the Grand Bargain, Obama trickery killed it. Then NO federal budgets were presented for legislative negotiation by the democrat-controlled Senate for 4 years. Get the picture?


Posted: May 7th, 2014 1:18 PM

The problem that causes problems are people exactly like you Ken! You may now place yourself in the company of Sean Hannity who just like you find nothing rational or constructive to say but spew a bunch of hateful rhetoric to get your base fired up! Maybe you focus like a laser beam on the sorry state of Illinois!

I'm with Ken from Oak Park  

Posted: May 7th, 2014 11:55 AM

Great piece Ken. Spot on. The truth always seems to sting the likes of Ray and other angry flat earth folks.

Slow progress  

Posted: May 7th, 2014 11:47 AM

Try to relax a bit, Ken. Things are looking pretty bad for 2014 Democrats. But 2016 and beyond, the demographics are not on the GOP's side. States like Texas and Georgia are slowly turning blue. Republicans are going to have to change or face extinction.


Posted: May 7th, 2014 11:20 AM

I'm just amazed at the comments here. When Jack Crowe spouts ideas from the other side, the comments are all glowing. When Ken Trainor gives his opinions, he is a hypocrite and a failure for not having a "better" job than being a staff reporter. What an awful comment to make! It is clear that thoughtful discourse is generally impossible and polite dissent will never occur. Should we always agree? No. But we shouldn't stoop to the level of name calling here from certain frequent contributors.

OP Resident # 545 from Oak Park  

Posted: May 7th, 2014 10:44 AM

There is so much idiocy in this piece...I feel less intelligent for having read it. While I dislike getting too personal, this drivel explains clearly why the author hasn't risen above this station in his career. Like his hero, the Current Occupant, he speaks pretty words, mostly without meaning, and is in no way as smart as he'd like to think he is. The sad part is that he actually believes all this. I bid you peace, Ken, & hope that some time soon you open your mind & embrace reality. Awful!

Ken Trainor from Oak Park  

Posted: May 7th, 2014 10:34 AM

As I've acknowledged many times, the Democrats at the state level are the problem. So I'm not hypocritical. Will you admit that the Republicans at the national level are the problem -- or are you hypocritical?


Posted: May 7th, 2014 9:10 AM

Illinois "democrats" are hypocrites. Let's rail against the evil republicans and completely ignore what the democrats have and are doing to Illinois. That's ok right?

Ray Simpson from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: May 7th, 2014 8:30 AM

The place all legislation dies seems to be in the Senate where Durbin/Reid are in charge. Last time I looked both were Democrats.

Hmmmmm..... from Oak Park  

Posted: May 7th, 2014 7:51 AM

Ken, you live in the Democratic county and Democratic state that refute your own argument better than I could. We have large government at the state and county levels that is unsustainable economically, and we have the same Democrats who created the mess (Madigan, Cullerton, etc.) in charge of fixing it. The answers? Higher taxes! Brilliant idea! Easier to get reelected raising taxes that cutting back responsibly.

Sergio from Oak Park  

Posted: May 7th, 2014 5:56 AM

One Party Rule! Of course, Ken. Why even bother with elections? Your column would be a real hit in North Korea. Typical left wing attempt tot stifle any thoughts not consistent with their world view. I respect your right to write this column, and the WJ's right to publish. But it seems if you had your way, you wouldn't allow other views to be heard. This is the most un-American piece I've seen in my local paper. Shameful.

Ray Simpson from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: May 7th, 2014 12:06 AM

Ken - you sure seem intolerant of everyone who you deem to be intolerant! The massive government you desire is the problem and our last 5 years has more than proved that politicians like Danny Davis and Dick Durbin are the core of the incompetence. Our country and all of the little folks you anguish for have been lied to, cheated and had their security destroyed.

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