By Ken Trainor
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.