Political opinions, like most opinions, aren’t sound evaluations of puts and takes on any given societal issue. They’re personal preferences that require some form of matching to an ideal. Psychologists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman did great work on how we decide things.
As someone not raised in a politically minded household who served in the military and was therefore limited in my ability to engage and express political views well into my 30’s, I was relatively late to the game in paying much mind space to politics. I didn’t form a “world view” at a young age for which I sought to match my perspectives to. There wasn’t an ideal state that was in question that needed to be defended. What political awakening I’ve experienced over the last three years has been a realization that’s simply not the.
For many finding themselves now caring more than they did before, their reason may be explained similar to mine. By virtue of being born when I was and growing up in America during the latter third of the 20th century, post Civil Rights movement and concurrent with the end of the cold war, I’d grown to rely on the ideals of western liberal democracy.
Equality of opportunity. Fair and open elections. Global community. Rule of law. Free press. Free Speech. Due Process. Free markets
These were stated, shared goals for which we evaluated performance against. We didn’t achieve them uniformly. And yes, I’m aware that not everyone believed in them. But they were American platforms for which we would at least try to lead the world towards.
It follows suit then that my exposed bias is towards views that further the values of western liberal democracy. That those views are now only one side of an American political debate is what troubles me and therefore moves me to act when once I was more comfortable spending time on other things.
Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin are meeting today in Helsinki. One reasonable question to ask may be which side of the ledger in the new American political debate to put the Helsinki summit on.
In government, a belief that the ends justifies the means can be problematic. Not understanding the ends nor trusting the means more so. It’s not obvious what’s on the table nor is it likely that we can have open and productive discussions with Russia while more and more evidence that Russia is meddling in American elections comes out. It’s also not obvious when China is the clear check on America for the next century, what role Russia plays in America’s future.
I’d settle for Russia losing a cyber-war with us and staying out of our elections. I’d also settle for the eroding global community ring fencing Russia into poor outcomes if they keep up the shenanigans.
My mother’s favorite poet was Robert Frost. She kept a book of his poems with illustrations on our old wooden bookshelf in the living room of our house in New Jersey. There were a handful of books on that bookshelf that I would pull down and thumb through from time to time. One was a compilation of photographs of Lincoln. Another was an illustrated account of the Kennedy assassination. Another was the story of our accomplishment of space flight. They were huge books, about half the size of me with colorful pictures, worn dust jackets and coffee stains. She’d gotten them in college in the 60’s. They sat on that shelf for decades. Some of them are still there, though she’s long since passed.
I remember the picture of a tree on the page with Frost’s Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. It looked like the tree in my front yard. I would read that poem over and over again. There was something about the end of it that just stuck in my head. The part about the woods, “lovely dark and deep.” And the part about life, “miles to go before I sleep”, twice said. There was beauty in that described moment of peace. And the realization that it was fragile and fleeting and that there was work ahead that made it more so. One last breath of fog in the cold night air while your feet stay still in the snow. And then it’s back to the business of life. Less beautiful. More permanent.
Life moves on. The future is our only constant. And no matter how beautiful or still or comfortable the peace of now might be, you cannot stay in it. The instant you realize it is the now you’re experiencing, it becomes the past. And you must move on. There’s work to be done.
Elections aren’t what make democracy great. They are a messy, imperfect means to an end. Accountability is what makes democracy great. And elections are the best measure of that accountability that we have to do that thing that is so hard to do. Since the days when we wandered out of the woods and onto the planes and further still over the horizon, the process of choosing who we allow to leads us has been hard, costly and not always for the best. The way we do it in America has yielded strong outcomes for centuries though. But it is not what makes us great. The greatness comes in between. After we choose. After we begin our journey again. We’ve got quite a bit of road ahead of us to cover. We’ve got miles to go. No sleep in sight.
There is a world beyond our current myopic focus. Our politics or the Jihad of a small group of foreign, hateful, religious zealots have distracted us. The world is about to remind us that those things weren’t quite the magnitude of threat we’ve faced in the past. What lies ahead, the rhetorical promise of a new arms race and the rise of an eastern power with enough resources to dominate the world for centuries, are far more serious threats. Threats that will force us to remember a time when Russian field commanders had nuclear weapons release authority for the payloads being placed in Cuba, 90 miles from our shores. Or when global imperial powers had the capacity to cripple our military with equal or greater military might of their own. And nothing the last president did, or the one before him or the next one is at fault. It’s the ebb and flow of a global species in which there is rarely a singular power that remains singular for very long.
It’s time to pick our heads up. There are sails on the horizon. And we’ve got work to do.
It’s been 45 days since the American people elected Donald J. Trump president. And it’s another 30 until he is sworn in as the 45th president of the United States of America. We’ve had enough time to reflect on what the election says about us. And what it says about the state of our political discourse. And what it says about our culture. We’ve taken our deep breath in the cold dark woods. And it’s time to move on. And it’s time to move past the what and why’s of what happened. It’s time to ask the better question. What do we want from a Donald J. Trump presidency? What do we want for America? The answer is pretty straight forward.
I don’t want him to fail. I don’t want him to be the disaster that would prove secretly delightful to those of us who so strongly opposed his candidacy. That justification can only come with four years of failure. Four years of worse outcomes for the American people. Four years of a weaker country amidst the backdrop of a rising China and a belligerent Russia. I don’t want that and neither should you. What I want out of a Trump presidency is the same thing I would want out of any presidency. Success.
Success is a weak word. It hasn’t done the work. The work of success begins with a narrow vision of what right looks like in the end. And if you don’t have one for America, then you haven’t done the work. And you don’t know anything about the effectiveness of her direction. And if your vision is 1950’s American, it’s a bad one. Success starts with a vision. So I’ll share with you mine. Because a great 21st century America needs to start moving forward in earnest. A great 21st Century America accomplishes the following, no matter who sits in the oval office or what ideas they have about America and her people:
25 Million new jobs created over the next ten years. China is on the hook for ten million a year. They’re still in catch up mode. We can win with a quarter of that.
Balance the federal budget by 2030. If you refuse to accept any other outcome, it can be done. But you are going to have to re-define your reality of taxation and government services. If you can’t, your future is already decidedly less great.
Eliminate fossil fuels within 75 years. Not through regulation. Through innovation and a better way. 100 years from now people need to laugh at their grandparents for digging dead things up from the ground and burning them for power. Pay attention to what Elon Musk is doing. And root for him to succeed.
A complete overhaul to modernize American infrastructure by 2025. I don’t mean repair. I don’t mean upgrade. I mean build again. Better, more innovative, more American. We win with better things and a better way of life.
Manned space flight to Mars by 2035. If it sounds silly, then I’d ask you what happens when a people reach their ceiling? They atrophy, or they blast through it. I’m for the latter. Again, watch Musk.
Put science, treatment and doctors back at the center of American healthcare. Get shareholders out of the game. Do that in any sustainable way possible.
That’s not an exhaustive list. You could probably find other things. But it’s a start. And we have to start. That’s what a vision looks and sounds like. That’s what making 21st century America great looks like. It’s more than a red hat and a snappy saying. It’s hard work.
There’s something refreshing about turning away from the messy footprints behind us that got us where we are and turning towards a goal. It’s cathartic. Because you spend time thinking about what you want. So much of American mind-space for the last 18 months has been focused on what we don’t want. It’s time to move on. And move forward.
If you’re one of the tens of millions of Americans who the president elect alienated with his campaign rhetoric or personal behavior, I’m not going to ask you to just get over it. But I am asking you to have a vision for what you want. Not simply what you don’t. And it’s entirely fair to assume that in order to realize that vision, it’s mandatory to build some foundation of unity where Americans aren’t living in fear of each other or the government. And if that can’t be done with Mr. Trump, then step one on the vision, is choosing a new leader. So be watchful. We are a nation of people. But we are a government of laws-laws that exist for the betterment of our people. No one is above them. We didn’t elect a king. Only a president.
It’s time to get going now. Feet moving over the snow again…miles to go before we sleep. Miles to go before we sleep.