We can cheer now that the battle was won and we have a new President. But the war is far from over. The war I speak of is the war for the soul of our nation. What are we to become? What do we really want? Why are we so divided, and what do we do about it?
There is an undercurrent of resentment and hate1 in our country that is afflicting a large fraction of its population. It is being aggravated by the media and augmented by social media platforms that act as a megaphone allowing a single voice to be heard by literally millions of people. It has erupted in violence on several occasions in the last few years. This undercurrent started long before Trump became president. In fact, Trump aggravated this undercurrent with divisive rhetoric, exploited it to become president and then exploited it a second time in a failed attempt to be re-elected.
What, then, is the cause of this undercurrent? There are possibly many factors involved, including
- Resentment due to a sense of powerlessness and inability to change things that might improve one’s situation.
- Frustration from a sense of disenfranchisement by those who believe that voting doesn’t matter because regardless who is in office, nothing will change for them. Their elected officials don’t represent them, don’t work for them and don’t care about them.
- Resentment caused by the belief that the “system is rigged” against them.
- Resentment of the super rich by the needy who go without food, shelter or adequate healthcare.
- Resentment of a criminal justice system that punishes the poor and minorities for committing trivial offenses while allowing the rich and powerful to commit grievous offenses with impunity
- Resentment of perceived unnecessary restrictions on speech or actions, e.g., political correctness, gun controls, etc.
- Resentment against authority
- A natural animosity towards those who appear, believe or behave differently (the “us” vs “them” divide)
Then, there are the power seekers who exploit this undercurrent by aggravating people’s grievances and making false promises of relief in order to gain popular support.
This undercurrent and those like it have a long history2 as does their exploitation by power seekers. Adolf Hitler is the textbook example, but he is accompanied by thousands, if not millions, of dictators and politicians of every stripe. This undercurrent, which is a major cause of our divisiveness, must be eliminated if we are to be reunited and win the war. The problem is, how do we combat it?
The war cannot be won with prayer. It cannot be won with talk. It can only be won with actions, but what actions? Suppression by police or military power is the wrong action as it will only aggravate the resentment and make matters worse. I don’t profess to know all the answers, but here are a couple of thoughts.
- Reduce the inequality.
- Reduce the aggravation3.
To reduce inequality there must be some redistribution of income and wealth4. It is likely that government intervention will be required to make this happen5. One means of redistributing income is through taxation6 and job creation7 much as it was done under the FDR administration. Another is to institute a national health insurance program to pay for medical expenses that financially burden the lower middle class and the poor, and to compensate for lost wages due to medical issues. A third is to restore the bargaining power of organized labor to give workers the leverage to bargain effectively for reasonable wages. A fourth is to move new or expanded businesses to regions with high poverty rates to provide economic opportunities to unemployed and underemployed. A fifth is to modify corporate law to force corporations to give equal standing to all stakeholders8 in the management of corporate policy. Actions such as these would reduce the inequality that contributes to resentment.
To reduce the aggravation, there needs to be a reduction in the rhetoric used to exploit people’s grievances and inflame their passions. One possibility is to limit both time and money for political campaigning. (E.g., limit political campaigning to 3 months prior to elections, limit political campaign contributions to reasonable amounts affordable to the average person, and allow only registered voters to contribute to political campaigns.) Another possibility is to hold the media (including social media platforms) accountable for spreading false infomration by imposing fines and/or revoking licenses9. These restrictions would substantially reduce the constant barrage10 of lies, exaggerations, fake sympathy, false promises and rhetoric which aggravate resentment, fuel hatred and encourage violence.
Another possibility that could help reduce the undercurrent in the long term is to improve the public’s knowledge and understanding of their government. To do this, we could reinstate mandatory “Civics” classes in our K – 12 education system. Such classes should include
- knowledge of our Constitution and basic structure of government,
- how laws are made (theoretically and realistically)
- how the federal, state and local governments work (in theory, and how they actually work in real life),
- the role of money in politics,
- the role of political parties and their positions on important issues,
- the role of corporations,
- resources available to monitor the actions of elected officials, political party officials, corporate and other special interest groups, and
- how to detect and refute false information.
In addition, it should address such thought provoking as
- What role should government serve in our society, i.e., what services/products should government provide (and how should they be paid for) vis-a-vis what services/products should be left to free enterprise?
- What role should corporations play in our government?
- How free is free speech, and how free should it be?
- What arms are we allowed to bear and what arms should we not be allowed to bear?
- What role should religion play in governance?
A firm understanding of our government and how it works would go a long way to eliminate people’s misconceptions and help them detect and disprove lies and exaggerations used to inflame passions.
Some, if not all, of the steps outlined above are probably necessary, but are they sufficient? Probably not. All I know for certain is that the war of which I speak is just one phase of the longest war in history, a war that encompasses all of civilized history, has never been won, and will not be won easily. We may never win it, but by alleviating inequality and aggravation I hope that we can achieve at least a peaceful co-existence.
1 As reported in statista.com, the Southern Poverty Law Center identified 838 active hate groups in 2020
2 Possibly as old as what we call “civilization”.
3 In electronic engineering, signals from an amplifier fed back to its input in phase with the original input leads to instability (the so-called feedback from a microphone that deafens the audience). This is exactly what happens when peoples’ grievances are loudly repeated back to them (and everyone else) over and over through multiple media.
4 I don’t mean drastic redistribution but those in need must be able to obtain more and it can only come from those who have excess.
5 Unfettered capitalism, the “invisible hand”, trickle down economics and other simple minded economic theories are incapable of achieving economic peace.
6 Here are three possible tax measures
- a more progressive tax on income comparable to that in 1970 where the highest income tax bracket was 70% (i.e., 70 cents of every dollar above $1 million paid in taxes.
- a modest sales tax on financial transactions (i.e., stocks, bonds, derivatives, etc.)
- a modest, progressive wealth tax. (Since states and local governments already impose wealth taxes (e.g., real estate and personal property), there is no reason why wealth taxes on all forms of wealth.)
7 The Work Projects Administration established by FDR in 1935 created over 8 million jobs that helped pave our streets, build our schools, highways, bridges, water and sewer infrastructure and our national parks among other things.
8 The eight groups of corporate stakeholders are owners/shareholders, investors, employees, customers, suppliers, creditors, communities and government.
9 It will be argued that these restrictions violate the “free speech” clause of the first amendment. However, we must acknowledge that there must be, and already are, some restrictions on speech. So we must ask ourselves, how much and what kinds of speech should be restricted? (Should speech be permitted that disturbs the peace, incites violence, threatens national security?)
10 Political campaigning in the U.S. has become a non-stop, continuous, 24/7/365 activity with no end. Candidates for major public office begin their next campaigns immediately following their elections and before being sworn into office in current elections. Politicians spend more time raising money for political campaigns than they do legislating or governing leaving those responsibilities to staff. In doing so, billions of dollars are spent that could otherwise be put to good use. In the 2020 federal elections alone over $14 billion dollars was spent. This does not include the money spent in state and local elections nor does it include money spent indirectly for political purposes (e.g., advertising money paid for talk shows like Limbaugh, Hannity, Cooper, Jones and a host of others).