We are a nation adrift. Even before the pandemic and George Floyd’s death, the U.S. was piling on problems with little sense that we had either the leadership or the political will to address them.
This country has the strength and ingenuity to find its way out. I don’t know about you, but I see rising out of the multiple crises besetting us a bedrock recognition that there is much work to do and a new willingness to overcome the inertia of recent years.
Not that this will be easy. Our problems are too immense to resolve outright. Stark inequities in economic opportunity and policing; an economy that has done fine for a relatively small group of people but left too many Americans fearing they won’t be able to fend for themselves or their families. These will take work.
Much as we talk about health care being a human right, we don’t act that way. Many Americans worry that immigrants are taking jobs and reshaping the lives they know. Yet our political system has been unable to move beyond either “fence them out” or “welcome them” to reckon with how we adjust creatively and humanely to demographic change. We’re involved in countless conflicts overseas with no strategic clarity or concerted effort to ask why and for what purpose.
So, what do we do? Obviously, there are specific policies we could pursue, but overall, how we set about fixing ourselves matters as much as the specifics of what we do.
For one thing, most of these problems can’t really be solved, only managed. The vital thing is to get started addressing them and not be hamstrung by partisan differences.
Secondly, we are long past the point where one sector can afford to sit things out. We need government, the private sector, and not-for-profits to work together. Our federal system allows experimentation. Different approaches can be tried at the local, regional, state, and federal levels.
Finally, we all have to recognize our stake as Americans in the problems that beset the country, not just the ones that concern us directly. We have the strength to rebuild, but not if we continue to withdraw to our little warring camps and lob insults at one another.
Only if we make “we’re all in this together” more than just five empty words can we overcome the harmful drift of the last few years.
–– Lee Hamilton is a Senior Advisor for the Indiana University Center on Representative Government; a Distinguished Scholar at the IU Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies; and a Professor of Practice at the IU O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.