It’s coming. Whether we like it or not. Whether we’re smart or stupid or just plain apathetic, we’re going to have to do something really hard. Together. As a people.
I don’t know what it is. It could be war. In fact, right now it feels like it’s war that’s most likely. But it doesn’t have to be. It could be less dynamic, but still damn hard. Like asking people who contributed to Social Security for fifty years to take less of it back. Or throwing out the K-12 education system that’s 50 year’s time late for innovation. We’re eventually going to have to do healthcare entirely different than we do now. I mean completely, like we haven’t even thought of the model and no one knows if it’s going to work yet different.
Maybe it’s putting a plan in place to account for 30% labor force reduction due to the automation that’s coming. That’s a fun one. You’ve got regulation and free markets and things like universal basic income all in one big damn hard problem.
Or it could be eventually dealing with what’s happening to the most unique thing that we’ve found in the known universe. The atmosphere of our planet.
The reality is that the hardest one will likely be none of those. It’s something none of us have seen yet. The black swan. That’s coming too. Without question.
It’s the only certainty in the world.
When you take a second to turn back and look at the footprints in the sand that is the journey of the American people, you see the things we’ve had to do. We had to commit treason against the Crown in the name of principle. We had to go war with each other to stay as each other. We had to settle and modernize a sprawling sea to sea nation. We had to build a social safety net to account for the outcomes of successful industrialization. We went to war to defend Europe and split the atom and won the space race and the cold war. We had to integrate people we subjugated and locked out of society for centuries.
We’ve had to do so many hard things.
And we’ve done them. Imperfectly, with success and failure. But we’ve done them.
Someone asked me the other day what the biggest problem that we’re dealing with in politics and society in America was. And the answer for me was easy.
We don’t trust our leaders anymore.
All those hard things had one common thread. When we closed our eyes and took that first step towards what we thought was a just and proper solution, we did it because we trusted someone somewhere that told us this was the right way.
I just can’t see us doing that right now for anything. That’s a deep, deep, dark problem.
There’s a reason that we value character in our leaders. We value it more than intelligence or sense of humor or even kindness. We value it because eventually, leading means someone somewhere is going to have to follow you into the darkness. And when they do, they’re going to have to trust that they’re doing it for the right reasons. And that you wouldn’t have asked them to go there if you could have done it alone. And that you’ll never hurt them if hurting yourself alone would have solved it.
That’s a lot of trust. And we’ve got none of it right now.
We’re an old government as democracies go. We’ve held it together because we trust the system. Not the details of it. Those change. But we trust the broad idea. That our leaders serve us and are accountable to us. And therefore have our best interest in mind when they do the hard things that they do.
But when that goes away because we’ve valued agenda over character, it’s only a matter of time before this whole thing falls over. Governments don’t last as long as ours has by accident. And when they fail, it’s not always with blood and fire in the streets. But it’s always because eventually, the people governed don’t trust those governing. So they’re either kept together by force. Or they fall.
I’m not interested in either of those outcomes.
But we’ve got to ask ourselves this: What does America look like thirty years from now if no one has believed anything or anyone from today until then? What hard things will we have accomplished?
Where have we led the world?
If you don’t like the answer to those questions, maybe next time around, don’t bargain with character to satisfy your politics. And maybe we can get this thing back.