The Next America
When this is all over, then what?
Right now America is a fucking joke. Just ask the UN General Assembly.
Here we are, in our current age, the age of absurdity. We’re throwing out truth, science, history, ethics, and democracy in favor of strongmen, rage, fantasy, spectacle, and believing whatever the hell we want.
Because we believe whatever the hell we want, we’re stuck with a national politics that is as hilarious as it is heartbreaking.
As Americans, we debate whether or not climate change is real, despite hard scientific evidence it is. We debate how hard we should make voting because of voter fraud, which is very much not a thing. We debate constantly the benefits of trickle-down economics, how having more guns makes us more safe, and maybe Nazis aren’t that bad. We’ve even found a way to debate whether or not debating civility is more important than separating kids from their parents.
We certainly have a history of really dumb debates like these. But it’s even more egregious when we have access to so much data, science, reporting, and most of the history of human knowledge to this point. With all that information, why do our politics ask such basic questions in a tone of general bewilderment?
Do we need safe drinking water? Do we need to pay our teachers for their efforts? Do we need to plan for an uncertain, climate-changing future? Is sexual assault wrong? Should we provide health care for all?
These and other questions like them come with obvious answers that are a threat to the white male order at the heart of American capitalism. That’s ultimately why our politics are stuck circulating around these questions even though the all power to the people people know the answers.
We know the answers and we know the transition from that white male order to what’s next for America is going to be painful. That’s obvious, given the way one of our major political parties has a regressive far-right platform at odds with the nation’s diverse citizenry, which is full of all sorts of different huddled masses yearning to breathe free.
Even though building the wall, protecting white privilege, restricting the rights of women, pushing minority groups into the shadows, and distributing wealth to the very top is the mission of the conservative side of our government, that side is in the minority. And at some point, the tables will turn and the country will move away from those unpopular positions en masse and instead embrace a truly “small d” democratic vision for America. The one we’ve always talked about but never really acted upon.
This may sound naive, but so what. If we’re not talking about what a better future looks like, we certainly won’t get there. When this absurdly partisan time of tribalism and stupidity is over, what follows? If it’s full-on collapse and we devolve into a post-apocalyptic hellscape of either our own making or the planet’s, these points will all be moot, so why not daydream about a better future while we still can?
If we manage to right the ship, what will the next America look like? If the optimism we embrace in this time of darkness pushes us into the direction of power to the people democracy rather than strongmen autocracy, what will the future hold in order to fulfill America’s founding promise of liberty and justice for all?
The End of Fantasy News
With a wonderlust for the shiny and new, the mystic and profound, Americans have always been good at embracing fantasy. Either to elevate our human existence or to try to find a way out of it. We’ve been willing to believe in whatever god we want, either in the clouds or in the form of dollar bills. The words of the preacher or the Wall Street banker carry a lot of weight.
All that maybe fine. But not when it comes to news.
Yes, we’ll eventually end the fantasyland “news” spectacle. We’ll realize the very idea of believing whatever the hell we want is absolutely preposterous. In order to debate, we need even-handed journalism. In order to learn, we need investigative reporting. In order to move ahead, we need to be grounded in the facts of the day. In what actually is, not in what we think is.
It may seem imposssible that we’ll ever have anything that isn’t surrounded by fake news believers and conspiracy theorists. But we will. And it will have a lot to do with turning toward each other.
Investing in Our Neighbors
Technology will not save us. There was a time we thought the internet would be the answer to all our ills—the solution to the vanishing public square, the connection point in a globalized world, the productivity engine for the new century workforce. Instead, the mindless consumer of the real world has become an addicted deal hunter in the digital realm. We’ve given our right to privacy away for the best price on useless gadgets and shallow connections.
Everything is a piece of content to be carved up for buying and selling and buying some more. Everything is data to be tracked, correlated, plotted, and analyzed. And every real world thing that today doesn’t have an app equivalent soon will.
So what happens when we put our screens down and go outside?
It turns out, lots. As the novelty of social media wears off, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the real human connections we need only come by actually connecting with humans in real life.
The American divisions between urban and rural, black and white, liberal and conservative, all those divisions are made worse when we try to take the easy way out and phone in some sort of technological solution to any problem. When that happens we get hacks, fake news, trolls, and outrage on a massive scale.
It’s a lot harder to shout down someone as un-American when you’re sitting across the table from them sharing tacos. From the city park to the local bar, both in our immediate neighborhood and beyond. Getting out there, showing up. Citizenship via being a good neighbor. Talking and listening, face to face. It’s the best remedy to our isolated loneliness as well as our tribal animosity. We’re just starting to realize it in a big way. It’s just the beginning of a truly connected neighborhood that encompasses entire regions, built on lifestyles that are human-to-human instead of screen-to-screen.
Saying Goodbye to Culture Wars
The culture wars seem to be expanding, now including the plight of the privileged white man whose constantly at risk of being taken down by the forces of the “angry left” or “nasty women.” The American president, as morally bankrupt as he is, pushes the culture war fight on a daily basis, speaking in defense of all the “persecuted” evangelicals out there. And the courts in our land seem set up to turn back social progress when it comes to women’s rights, environmental protections, the strength of organized labor, and giving more power to corporations over people in case after case.
The upcoming attacks on our social progress will be nothing short of vicious and extreme. However, the attacks will not be able to withstand the growing forces who see them as not only vicious and extreme, but attacks that must be reversed when power is back where it rightly belongs—the people.
It’s the people who see these last throes of a truly frightened patriarchy shaking in their $400 wingtips. The idea of allowing the speaking-in-tongues crowd of evangelical Christians setting the agenda for a nation as diverse as ours doesn’t sit well. Take rights away from women? Not cool. Ending gun violence by taking away some guns? For sure. Protect men who are sexual predators? Oh hell no. Raising taxes so we can invest in our public schools? Most definitely.
The culture wars in America are where the most regressive forces in our politics firmly plant their feet in order to not allow our seemingly inevitable progress to move forward. And even though it will take effort—mobilizing, marching, protesting, running, winning, legislating—that progress is inevitable if we recognize the power of our numbers.
The freedom-loving Americans with open arms who aren’t afraid of other religions or skin tones are the majority. Sooner rather than later, we’ll start acting like it.
Acknowledging the Three Political Parties
There may be two political parties in America by name, but we all know that isn’t how the representation goes. Our latest presidential campaign as reality show made that abundantly clear, with the extreme right’s battle against the conservative establishment and the splintering of the left, which seems to be forever ongoing.
After more than a decade of institutional failures, it can be easy to shy away from any kind of government solution to the problems we’re facing. Give it to a strong man and all will be better. Since the botched global war on terror, to the failed response to a hurricane, to the housing collapse and subsequence collapse of the global economy, relying on government doesn’t seem to be the answer. Or is it?
What happens when we willfully decimate the public sphere? What happens then to our public schools, public employees, public health care, public utilities, and public safety? What happens when we stop investing in what built up the collective force of the country? Are we going to be the generation that let’s slip through our fingertips the legacy of the WPA, our land grant universities, our public park system, or the way we have used our tax code to fulfill the promise of America for everyone?
Let’s say we don’t. We, instead, choose to expand that legacy.
It seems as though we’ve been waiting for Infrastructure Week for so long that by the time it gets here we’ll need an Infrastructure Decade. Crumbling roads and bridges, outdated airports, pipes that poison people. There is a lot to rebuild. There is a lot to invest in. And there is a lot that individual corporations are simply not up to the task of handling on their own. As state-level conservative experiences in “starving the beast” have shown, vast majorities of people actually want their government to function and carry out its duties by and for the people.
To that end, the political parties that eventually form seem likely to breakdown this way:
- The Progressive Left
- The Ever-so-cautious Middle
- The Extreme Right
Because we’re not stomping out racism and sexism in the foreseeable future, the racists and sexists need a place to go. In many ways they’re already there, over on the Extreme Right. Yelling and hollering about being victimized as they currently control the entire United States government. Their numbers are shrinking as we speak, thanks to changing demographics, increasing connectivity, and kids who are educated growing up to be adults who are educated. This is the death throes of an Extreme Right in a position to govern. They know it, we know it. It’s terrible now, but soon, the transition to that “small d” democracy will ensure that the Extreme Right is relegated to a small, probably still loud, block of right-wing nutjubs who never get voted into office ever again.
The Ever-so-cautious Middle is where the moderate liberals and conservatives who aren’t racists and sexists will find themselves. Sure, they’re really uncertain about using government to solve our problems but they have nothing better to offer. Hence, they’ll go along with most things, perhaps slowing things up a bit. But progress will still move forward. Just like how America mobilized its private sectors toward the war effort in fighting WWII.
Which brings us to the Progressive Left. The force behind the New Deal of the past, the push for universal health care of the present. Free college, a federal jobs guarantee, a progressive income tax on the wealthy that allows the country to provide its most universal of promises to all its citizens—liberty and justice for all. Here you’ll find the dreamers and agitators, the protestors and the candidates you can put your money on. Immensely tired with the status quo of handouts for the rich and stiff arms for the rest of us. Ready to build the new America, and ready to include everyone who wants to be involved.
Unclogging the Trickle of Capitalism
We can say the idea of the American Dream is seriously compromised at this moment. Because in America, it’s just business, and money rules all our days. Not community, not family, not creativity, not simply enjoying our limited time on this Earth.
When the financial crisis wiped out all that savings and the government saved all those bankers and all their capital, the con was right there, staring us in the face. We haven’t recovered. But we’re starting to. And the recovery here has nothing to do with recovery in the financial sense. It has everything to do with the process of building up our united sense of identity.
It’s clear, we’ll need to end of our religious-style belief in capitalism. With young people this is already happening, with much support being shown for socialism instead. Because you just can’t trust the market for your school, your career, your family, or your happiness. In the end, whether they pile on more and more fees or they remove your access altogether, a market left to its own devices eats itself. And then takes all the players down with it. Except for those rich few with unfair access to various levers of gamesmanship and fraud that protect them from the pain of capitalism.
But as more and more of us choose to simply not play the game of corporate kleptocracy and crony capitalism, it naturally starts to lose its power. And it soon will fade. Everyone knows trickle-down economics is one of the greatest jokes ever played on working people. We’re starting to act like we know the score, and we’re ready to make our own system of government start working for the actual people it affects most.
Saying Yes to Universal Health Care
What effects people most? What can come along at a moment’s notice and cut us down in our prime? What is constantly at risk for our family and friends and can make our futures seem so uncertain?
Health, in general, is the biggest issue that reminds us all we’re human. We suffer and we die. As a nation, we can either choose to ignore that fact or we can come together to address that reality in one voice, in one universally held belief, that in the richest and most abundant nation in the history of the world, no one will ever go on without their health under our care.
We will finally let go of the selfish view that we just can’t do things like universal health care because we assume someone undeserving will take advantage of the system. We’ll finally realize no one is undeserving and it’s more important that everyone has access to dignity than if that system is 100 percent pure.
All systems have flaws, we’ll get over it because the benefits of dignity far outweigh the negatives of any system defect.
Watch your mother get compassionate treatment for her cancer. Watch your friend’s child be saved with world-leading medicine and care after a premature birth. Watch the hospitals in your community express their utmost devotion to making people well and know that your tax dollars are just fine. If there are parts of our population without the ability to get any of that care, that injustice is too great. We need to do something about that.
And we will. We will turn this nation of suspicion and selfishness around. We will become what we say we are. The greatest nation in history. Finally. Simply because we decided that we do not let anyone die without having a chance at life because of the health care we choose to make available to everyone no matter the circumstance, no matter the cost.
We’re Americans, we’ll say. We provide health for all. That’s what we do.
In this current age of absurdity, America is looking forward and backward, determining where it wants to go. Progressive or regressive? Liberal or conservative? Democratic or autocratic? And who is going to ultimately decide what wins the day?
The generation that embraces multiculturalism, diversity, inclusion, and open-minded thought will be the generation that embraces civic engagement for the betterment of society as a whole. Hopefully.
And the youth will move away from the old boys club—the greasy sexism of men ruling the day; the profit-above-all-else “greed is good” heathenism of corporate America; the exploitation of the working class, the gouging of students, all in the name of profits hoarded by the few. Profits hoarded by those who wall themselves off in gated communities readying for the coming climate-change apocalypse. Because they know it’s coming and we know it’s coming.
We’ll all need to work together if we’re going to survive it. This is what the youth knows.
There will be a next phase for America. What that is, it’s far too early to say. But in order to give a bright future a fighting chance, let’s paint a picture of what we want our next reality to become.