We are living in the most difficult moment in modern history. If you feel anxious and overwhelmed about what’s going on, you’re not alone. The extraordinarily challenges we face are very real, but we can never let them become excuses for checking out of the political struggles that address these crises and will define our future.
Our nation and, indeed our planet, are at a critical juncture. It is imperative that we recognize what we are up against, and what we must do to move our politics toward justice and human decency. And we can start by acknowledging that the American people have been through a lot, and that their confidence in politics and in government has been shaken.
The Covid pandemic, the worst public health crisis in 100 years, took over a million lives in our country, and millions more became ill. The pandemic created the most painful economic downturn since the Great Depression, disrupted the education of our young people, increased isolation, anxiety and mental illness.
The climate crisis is ravaging the planet. The last eight years have been the hottest on record and floods, droughts, forest fires and extreme weather disturbances have brought death and destruction to almost every part of the globe. Scientists tell us that unless there is a major reduction in carbon emissions over the next several decades, the planet will become increasingly uninhabitable.
Amid unprecedented income and wealth inequality, with three people owning more wealth than the bottom half of American society, a handful of oligarchs control the economic and political life of our nation for their own greedy ends.
With a dysfunctional government, and growing economic anxiety for millions of Americans, 60% of whom live paycheck to paycheck, faith that our flawed democracy can respond to the needs of working families is ebbing, and more and more Americans believe that authoritarianism might be the best way forward.
Artificial intelligence is exploding. There are deep concerns not only that this new technology will displace millions of workers but about the real possibility that human beings could actually lose control over the future of society.
The US healthcare system is broken beyond repair. Despite spending twice as much per capita as any other country, 85 million are uninsured or underinsured, our life expectancy is declining and we have nowhere enough doctors, nurses, dentists or mental health practitioners.
Our educational system is in crisis. Childcare is too often unaffordable and unavailable, many of our public schools are unable to attract the quality teachers they need, and 45 million Americans struggle with student debt. In 1990, the US led the world in the percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds who had college degrees. Today, in a competitive global economy, we are in 15th place.
And, oh yes, Donald Trump, who is becoming more rightwing and extremist every day, is leading many of the presidential polls. In a recent speech, using language that echoes Adolf Hitler, Trump stated: “We will root out the communists, Marxists, fascists and the radical left thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our country.” He also had strong praise for Hungary’s authoritarian leader, Viktor Orbán. In an interview, Trump said migrants were “poisoning the blood of our country”, promising in another speech that he would round up undocumented people on a vast scale, detain them in sprawling camps, and deport millions of people per year.
Frighteningly, the growth of rightwing extremism is not just growing in the United States.
As the Washington Post reports, “far-right parties have taken power in Italy, extended their rule in Hungary, earned a coalition role in Finland, become de facto government partners in Sweden, entered parliament in Greece and made striking gains in regional elections in Austria and Germany”. Within the past few weeks, a far-right candidate was elected president of Argentina and a rightwing extremist party won the most seats in the election in Holland.
That’s the bad news. The very bad news. But there’s also good news.
The good news is that all across the country workers and their unions are fighting back against corporate greed. We are seeing more union organizing and successful strikes than we have seen in decades. Whether it’s the Teamsters at UPS, the UAW at the big three automakers, the Screen Actors Guild (Sag) at the large media production companies, Starbucks workers, graduate students on college campuses, or nurses and doctors at hospitals, working people are making it clear that they are sick and tired of being ripped off and exploited. They are no longer sitting back and allowing large corporations to make record breaking profits while they fall further and further behind. They will no longer accept CEOs making nearly 350 times more than the average worker.
The good news is that more and more Americans are making the connections between the reality of their lives and the corrupt and destructive nature of our uber-capitalist system which prizes greed and profiteering above any other human value.
Whether they are Democrats, Republicans or independents, Americans want change – real change.
They are disgusted by a political system which allows the wealthiest people in this country, through their Super Pacs, to buy elections. They want structural campaign finance reform based on the principle of one person, one vote.
They are outraged by billionaires paying a lower effective tax rate than they do because of massive tax loopholes. They want real tax reform which demands that the wealthy and large corporations start paying their fair share of taxes.
They are frightened for the future of this planet when they see oil companies make record-breaking profits as the carbon emissions they produce destroy the planet.
They are offended to see ten giant pharmaceutical companies making over $110bn in profits last year, while they cannot afford the outrageous price of prescription drugs they need to stay alive.
They are shocked as they see Wall Street investment firms buy up affordable housing, gentrify neighborhoods, while they are unable afford to afford the outrageous rents being charged by their unaccountable Wall Street landlords.
They are humiliated by having to stay on the phone for an hour, arguing with an airline company machine about a plane reservation, while the industry makes huge profits.
The American people today are angry. They are anxious about their present reality and worried about the future that awaits their kids. They know that the status quo is not working and that, in many respects, the system in breaking down.
Change is coming. The question is: what kind of change will it be? Will it be a Trumpian, authoritarian type change that exploits that anger and turns it against minorities and immigrants, blaming them for the crises we are experiencing? Or will it be a change that revitalizes American democracy, unites and empowers working people of all backgrounds and has the courage to take on a corrupt ruling class whose greed is causing irreparable destruction in our country and around the world?
There is no question but that the challenges we face today are enormous – economic, political and environmental. There is no easy path forward when we take on the oligarchs and the most powerful entities in the world.
But, in the midst of all that, here is the simple truth. If we stand together in our common humanity – Black, white, Latino, Asian American, Native American, gay and straight, people of all religions, there are enormous opportunities in front of us to create a better life for all. We can guarantee healthcare to every man, woman and child as a human right. We can create millions of good paying jobs transforming our energy system. We can create the best educational system in the world. We can use artificial intelligence to shorten our work-week and improve our lives. We can create a society free of bigotry.
But here is the other simple truth. None of that happens if we are not prepared to stand up and fight together against the forces that work so hard to divide and conquer us. This is a moment in history that cannot be ignored. This is a struggle that cannot be sat out. The future of the planet is at stake, democracy is at stake, human decency is at stake.
Let’s go forward together and win.