Now We Get to Work!

| Present

It’s Friday the 13th, but for many of us, that feels like a very positive date on the calendar! Despite what Donald Trump and his supporters might say and wish, they have been defeated at the polls, and it is time for him to prepare to move out of the White House (the People’s House). American of all stripes (and many foreigners as well) are breathing a huge sigh of relief to see the probable departure of “the Donald” (even if he doesn’t completely disappear from the scene).

We should all know very well by now, however, that it is no time to rest, as much as we all might want to after this disturbing, chaotic and tumultuous few years we have lived through. If we never realized it before, we should realize it now: democracy is not a “spectator sport” but a fragile experiment that needs constant care and tending. Not only is it critical that eligible voters vote in all elections, we must also pay the closest attention possible to what goes on around us politically on a regular basis. If progressives want to prevent losing Senate and House seats in the 2022 midterms and thus lose any possible momentum that President-Elect Joe Biden and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris might start, we cannot sit back on our heels, no matter how exhausted we might feel right now. Further, at the time of this writing, there is talk about Trump running for President again in 2024; since he gained millions of voters this election cycle, it is definitely possible for him to win again. (Parenthetically, this is a good moment to remind ourselves that we are the only advanced nation in the world that has an Electoral College. All other advanced democracies elect their leaders by popular vote. As we have argued in the past, it would behoove the US to abolish the Electoral College.)

As the saying goes, “elections have consequences!” Here are a few examples.

  • The Republican majority in the Senate has brought us three conservative Supreme Court justices in four years, as well as dozens of appointments of conservative federal judges with lifetime appointments.
  • That Republican Senate majority under the self-proclaimed “Grim Reaper,” Mitch McConnell, has also resulted in the death of nearly 400 progressive bills passed by the Democratic-majority House of Representatives that would have helped millions of our fellow citizens.
  • Republican majorities in nearly a dozen states have resulted in grotesque gerrymandering of voting districts that have further empowered cruel, outlandish state legislatures for the past decade. (Of the top 10 most-gerrymandered states, only one – Maryland – gives the advantage to Democrats.)
  • Carolyn Fiddler has clearly outlined in her Statehouse Action pieces the potential dire consequences of GOP-controlled state legislatures.
  • By contrast, for instance, states that have expanded Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act – President Obama’s signature health care program that Republicans fought tooth-and-nail early on and are still fighting, despite its success and popularity – have helped millions, including positioning people better for combating the coronavirus.

The new Biden-Harris Administration now holds out tremendous hope for our country, and it is already hitting the ground running with promising initiatives. But that is only the beginning. Whatever plans Biden, his VP and his Cabinet, along with supportive senators and members of Congress, put forward, there are still many things that we average citizens – everyday Americans – can and must do for ourselves, for those we love, for our community and for our nation. (And we also need to remember that McConnell and his GOP colleagues could well manage to put roadblocks up to hamper confirmation of those Cabinet choices if the Senate remains Republican-controlled after the two crucial runoff elections in Georgia.)

We are tired, even exhausted, from the chaos and demoralization of the past four to five years. We can and must take care of ourselves and our families however we can to recover our equilibrium – physical, emotional, financial, mental, spiritual. Find ways to stay healthy in every way.

We have overdosed on news feeds. However, we must remain engaged and informed citizens. We must keep abreast of facts and evidence, at least at the “daily headline” level.

We must stay vigilant about the COVID disease. As the health experts have been telling us for months, we all can do relatively easy things to prevent the spread of this virus and promote the common good: wearing masks in public, washing our hands, keeping distance from people not in our own households, limiting travel, spending time outdoors, and keeping indoor crowds as small and distanced as possible. It was Trump and his cronies who cruelly politicized these simple and doable measures – and caused untold misery and death across the country.

If we are white, we must not forget our sisters and brothers of color. As recent events and the pandemic have taught us so clearly, people of color have not only been more adversely affected than whites by the virus – they have long been more severely disadvantaged in almost every other way. At the very least, we whites must continually educate ourselves about these facts and vow to always be part of the solution and not part of the problem.

We must not get caught in the trap that conservatives love to set in calling Democratic initiatives “socialist.” There is a vast difference between socialism and the social safety net, and we can all help spread that word! As we have pointed out earlier, socialism is “a way of organizing a society in which major industries are owned and controlled by the government rather than by individual people and companies.” The right wing has been railing against “socialism” for decades and stepped up that fear campaign, perhaps especially in some Latinx communities, in this election cycle. It is completely untrue that Democrats want to undo the market economy and replace it with socialism in its traditional guise. The right-wing fear-mongerers cite systems in countries such as Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua – and conveniently forget that capitalist nations such as Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Switzerland and the Netherlands are highly successful precisely because of their robust social safety nets.

We must continue to pay attention to our broken, dysfunctional and extremely expensive healthcare system, and we must not fall into traps (again, mostly set by the right wing) that try to make us believe that the trend or desire toward a single-payer system is a travesty. Again, if we paid much closer attention to those nations that are healthiest and happiest – with the highest levels of longevity – we would know that our Byzantine, profit-motivated insurance system is the exact opposite of what we need. A Gallup poll released in late 2019 showed that 54% of Americans rate their private insurance over a hypothetical government-run healthcare system (42%), but a more nuanced interpretation is that “Americans with private insurance are more concerned about costs than those with government coverage.” Thus it may be quite misleading to argue that we actually prefer our current system; rather, we like our healthcare providers, and if we could keep those providers under a government system, we would be satisfied.

Trump, in his racist pique, motivated most likely by intense jealousy, sought during his tenure to undo as many of Obama’s initiatives as possible. Obama’s programs and policies were enacted to help Americans; Trump as a psychopath who has no conscience and no empathy for other human beings has consistently taken steps to harm human beings. In this new Biden-Harris age, we must encourage common-sense measures that help Americans to be enacted into law through Congress when at all possible. However, if that is not possible under a McConnell Senate, we must support resorting to Executive Orders on Biden’s part, as well as aggressive measures at the state level.

Despite Trump’s and other Republicans’ enormous efforts to convince Americans that climate change is not real, the vast majority of us support initiatives that combat climate change and help the environment. Trump has pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement, but Biden has vowed to get us back in. Biden has also offered a number of workable plans to create jobs in the “green energy” sector. As citizens, we must do our part in our homes and communities to combat climate change AND support our elected officials who create legislation and take other leadership roles toward these goals. Our children’s lives depend on this!

We could list more things that we average Americans can and must do in order to preserve the country that we love. Suffice it to say now that it is the responsibility of all of us to constantly do those things that each of us can do within the scope of our own interests, limitations and situations. Merely fretting when things are not going well, and tuning politics out when things are going well, are two sides of the same coin – and both are unacceptable. Yes, we elect representatives to carry out our wishes, but they cannot do everything. We are all in this together!

Resources for the Success of Advanced Democracies

Helliwell, John F., Richard Layard, Jeffrey Sachs, and Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, eds., World Happiness Report 2020. New York: Sustainable Development Solutions Network, 2020.

Hill, Steven. Europe’s Promise: Why the European Way is the Best Hope in an Insecure Age. Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 2010.

Lakey, George. Viking Economics: How the Scandinavians Got It Right – and How We Can, Too. Brooklyn and London: Melville House, 2016.

Partanen, Anu. The Nordic Theory of Everything: In Search of a Better Life. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2016.

Steves, Rick. Travel as a Political Act: How to Leave Your Baggage Behind. Berkeley, CA: Hachette Book Group, 2018; third printing 2019.