Saturday, January 18, 2020

2020 Vision

A new year is upon us. Not just a new year, but also a new decade. As it turns out, a decade as important and significant as was anticipated, a decade that will be defined by its first year. The events and the language are going to set our table, and define our future, more so than any year since 1945. Faced with a variety of choices, directions and alternatives, this is the year that will call the questions of who we are as a people and a country, and ask us to clarify what kind of country we want to live in, based upon what values and principles are truly most important.

We have been entrenched in uncivil conflict for 20 years, conflict now coming into open headlong collision. As a country, we have been arguing among ourselves about America’s purpose and promise since the very beginning of the Republic. We have been through and survived even worse times and fissures in our relationships. But not since our American Civil War has there been such a concerted attack on the institutions and principles that have held this country together in spite of our arguments. We argue about government programs, policies and priorities. We file endless lawsuits to try to clarify our laws, many of which are in fact clear in their intention. We elect leaders who do not lead – and do not even follow – but rather pursue their own personal agenda (or enrichment) with little regard for “the greater good.” Our conversations with each other have become superficial and outright mean, making societal progress and solutions to problems nearly impossible. Our Constitution – that marvelous expression of social and governmental creativity built upon our population’s better nature – is being chewed up by our population’s worse nature. We are drowning in fighting each other while we ignore the opportunities that are possible if we instead worked together. This dysfunction is funded by outlandish amounts of money spent to benefit self-interests in governmental, non-profit, cultural, religious, and corporate realms. And there seems no end in sight to this toxic and counterproductive environment.

Right out of the chute in 2020 will be the Senate impeachment trial of Donald Trump. Will this process be a political sham? Or will one hundred senators ignore the Politics of Power and, instead, act in an ethical exercise responsible to their special oath as “impartial impeachment jurors?” Separate from the ultimate verdict, will our citizens (and the world) watch our democracy in action, or will they see only political grandstanding and theater. Depending upon the outcome of the Senate vote, what actions will then follow, what forces will be unleashed?

Immediately thereafter (or even concurrently), the citizenry will begin to speak through the sacred voice of their vote. They will pick their candidates, and then their final choice, for president, but also for thousands of other federal, state, and local representatives. How will we conduct this election process, given that our experience suggests that this will be a very hard fought and ugly process, filled with exaggerated mistruths? Who will we choose, based upon what criteria: proposed policies; demonstrated competency; evidence of Character? Will this election be governed by fair rules that welcome all eligible voters, or corrupted by partisan misdeeds, perhaps even sabotaged by foreign adversaries intent on disrupting our faith in the results – if not the results themselves?

Alongside this internal journey, there will be incidents, threats, opportunities and conflicts happening across the globe. Ones we may be able to anticipate through today’s eyes; others not yet even a blip on our radar. Who will we entrust to navigate these events in the deeply interconnected world we now live – a world where isolation is no longer an option and cooperation is mandatory. Who will make friends and build partnerships, who will confront enemies appropriately, and who will be unable to distinguish between “friend and foe”?

Running in and out of these major narratives will be a continuing parade of investigations – federal and state prosecutions, judicial rulings, congressional oversight, and media reporting. There seems no end to the list of questionable actions and falsehoods still being continually uncovered. In 2020, some of these investigations will be concluded, some will continue to slowly unfold drop by drop, and (amazingly) some new ones will arise. For many Americans, it is nearly impossible to keep track of all of the separate cases now in process, much less the details embedded in each. But we have to try if we are to be informed voters trying to make good and rational decisions for our country.

Meanwhile, our many divisions continue to get bigger and deeper. We are building barriers over just about every facet of our society with an intention to dominate each other and establish one single “what’s right” for everyone. We are split between two political parties, and split even further within each. Many of our religions are dividing into more narrow denominations and branches over issues of faith, dogma and operational control. Economic goals conflict with social aspirations amid wide-spread debate about the role of government. Divisions over social, religious, gender and immigration questions are “negotiated” in seemingly daily barrages of bullets and violence. Meanwhile, “truth” and “facts” are strewn alongside the highway, roadkill casualties to our efforts to win at all costs. Potential progress is lost because it is “the other guy’s” fault.

Depressing? Yes, quite so. But it does not have to be this way. Our future is our choice – a choice to continue as we are or to make it different. What kind of America do we truly want? What American message do we wish to speak – to ourselves and to the world? When will we get tired of the fighting, and move to a renewed spirit of reconciliation and cooperation? What are we willing to give, and to give up, to achieve a renewed America?

In 2020, we will answer these fundamental, critical questions not by our words, but by our participatory engagement and our actions. It starts with our taking responsibility for the political and cultural environment we find ourselves in. It is not the other guy’s fault; it is our collective fault. The way out requires us to commit to truly staying informed, as difficult as it may be in these times when major events and headlines arrive on a seemingly daily basis. It requires us to reintroduce ourselves to our “opponents” and remember that these are our neighbors whose needs and aspirations should be our concern. It requires us to change the nature of our conversations from throwing bricks and hurling insults at each other, to listening to one another so as to understand why our worldviews differ. It requires us to reject lies, to speak from reasonable facts, to demand truth, and to insist on ethical behavior. It requires us to sit together, work together, and find the many middle grounds that are necessary to make living together possible. It requires us to move away from “my way” and to find “our way” by Compromising with each other – the very foundational and essential principle that our Founders had to draw upon to create this Republic in the first place.

Change does not start in the White House or Congress. Nor in governors’ mansions or state legislatures. It starts in each of our living rooms. Around our dinner tables. It is, as it was designed to be in the beginning, upon us – “We, the People.” What will we do with what we have been given?

©   2020   Randy Bell