Politics Unworthy of the People

This terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year is almost behind us.

And the year 1 A.T. is nearly here. After Trump, that is.

Still, an awful lot of people remain utterly flummoxed by so many of their fellow Americans falling so hard for a billionaire reality TV star whose message began with fear-mongering, race-baiting, and anti-immigrant nativism and ended with the conceit that he alone could keep us safe, maintain order, and make us prosper economically.

It’s not easy to wrap one’s head around the forces behind his rise to power unless you are personally feeling the anger fueling raging populism that has swept across our country like wildfires. There is a significant segment of American society that can tell politicians aren’t listening to them and are not working on their behalf, and they are steamed.

Many Americans are convinced that the country’s best days are in the rearview mirror. The nation’s politics reflects this angst and will continue to for the foreseeable future. Is it so hard to understand how tens of millions of Americans who fear they’re being left behind could be drawn to someone who tells them they are right to feel the way they do and promises to bring back the good old days?

America is in transition economically at the same time our country is experiencing dramatic social change. Economic dislocations are always painful and traumatic, and the fear and uncertainty and sense of loss that accompany them always find a political outlet. When large numbers of people left the land and went to factories and offices more than a century ago, there was political turbulence. With a global economy emerging, with factory jobs exported overseas or automated out of existence, with great recessions and jobless recoveries and widening economic inequality, once again there is political turmoil.

America is being socially transformed. Mighty blows were struck for civil rights, women’s rights and gay rights. Now we’re in the midst of a national reckoning with systemic racism. For many, this all feels right. It was about time. Some find the social upheaval discomforting, but they’re adjusting. For others, such change is intolerable, and they are pushing back. Hard. The ferocity of the political backlash is itself a sure indication of how transformative social change movements have been and continue to be.

America is being remade, both socially and economically. There are abundant signs of reinvention and renewal all across the country, but not on Capitol Hill or in Wisconsin’s state capital. Most Americans are adapting to the shifting ground beneath our feet, but our national politics is lagging behind and dragging us down. That makes it harder than necessary for Americans to adjust to the challenges of our time.

One of countless examples is that workers now have to change jobs much more frequently than in the past. Guaranteeing access to medical care by making health insurance truly portable so it follows workers regardless of where they are employed makes all kinds of sense in today’s economy. The political system has so far proven incapable of meeting the need. No wonder there is so much anti-establishment fervor.

America is being remade, both socially and economically. It needs to be transformed politically too.

Mike McCabe

December 21, 2020