Eventually, We’re Going to Have to Do Something Hard

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.

Hard things.

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.

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8 replies »

  1. Do you think it is time for a new political party? Something totally new and different. Something that isnt beholden to a specific agenda. A party that hasnt sold its soul to protect those already in power. Something that isnt run by old money or white guys. Something that support both ends of the spectrum. Something that all the people can believe in again.

    How could someone go about starting that party?


    • I think a more likely outcome is a shift in existing parties to different platforms. If we didn’t get energy for a third party this time…hard to imagine its in the near future. We’re at 160 years with the two we have.


  2. Solutions are already in place: so let us do them. Here are a few:
    * Single payer health insurance.
    * No home schooling or private schools so even those who can afford to stay at home and teach their kids or pay private schools have to be invested in all schools and kids.
    * Stop tax loopholes, corporate subsidies and raise the taxes on the wealthy to promote infrastructure development
    * Decrease military spending and military actions.
    * Put back Glass-Steagall
    * Break up the banks
    * Stop gerrymandering

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Once again, a very insightful article. While I agree with your assessment of the problem being a matter of not trusting our leaders, I would say, that is only the second half of the problem.

    The first half, and in my opinion the most important, is the fact that we continue to elect leaders that continue to demonstrate that they can’t be trusted, and too many of us don’t even bother with the electoral process at all!

    It is difficult to have sympathy for a people that sit idly by and watch their house burn, when they didn’t take the time to read the instruction manual on how to operate their fire alarm.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Sean, I appreciate your overall point here, but I take exception to blanket statements vilifying the public education system. ” Or throwing out the K-12 education system that’s 50 year’s time late for innovation.” That may have sounded good to make your point, but the complete lack of nuance makes it completely wrong. Schools have changed significantly in the last 30+ years that I’ve been teaching. Many public schools are very successful and are much more innovative than you would expect from the inflammatory statements from politicians and some of the press.
    If you want to make a blanket statement that school funding needs to be overhauled, I’ll back you there. One of the most successful differences between “good” schools and “bad” schools is the tax base around them.
    If you want to see what’s different in education today, spend some time on TeachingChannel.org or Edutopia.org. If you’re looking for automation in education as another of your posts seems to suggest, we can have a conversation of which skills and knowledge that could be effective for and which still need a more personal touch.


    • Thanks as always for contributing to the feedback. I actually come to this point as someone with three kids in various functions of the k-12 program. From the special day class to the project based learning charter school to the mainstreamed Spanish immersion program. Also married to a teacher, raised by two teachers. So my comment is less of a critique of the people and progress made and more a sense that the world has moved past even the most advanced iterations of the teacher/classroom learning environment. If we started it all today, and we had seen what it was like before, using today’s technology and skill needs, it would look nearly nothing like what it does now. And in order to make that amount of change, to innovate at the speed of automation and the information age won’t stand for optimizing and improving. And we’re falling behind. After 13 years of schooling, you should be able to add value to the workforce at a greater rate than you do now. I think that’s the point. Not to degrade the work and progress made by those forced into fixing a 200 year old structure.


      • I appreciate your detailed reply. I won’t continue the conversation further since this wasn’t your topic on this post, but I do hope in this new world vision, developmentally appropriate instruction is considered.