We are living in some very scary and strange times, indeed.
Scary times? 14.7% unemployment across the nation in April, with that number promising to be set higher when the labor numbers are released for May 2020 on June 5. States are rapidly running through their unemployment benefits funds at a dangerous rate as they try to deal with the economic impact of a pandemic that has cost the nation over 100,000 American lives. There is civil unrest in the streets of our cities where people are dealing with the pandemic, instantaneous economic ruin, and the anger of dealing with yet another tragedy that symbolizes the uneven nature of our society during the hardest of times. People are losing hope, and fear that the American Dream will never come – not to their families and, as a result, perhaps it will never become a reality for any of our families, either.
Strange times? Presumptive presidential nominee Joe Biden tells America that “…you ain’t black…” if a person is still weighing her or his options for their November vote. Rush Limbaugh and rapper-turned-radio-host Charlamagne tha God sit down for an interview on race in America. Trey Gowdy emotionally calls for a first-degree murder charge in the George Floyd murder. “Constitutional conservatives” calling out other conservatives for having the courage to acknowledge the racism they experienced in their lives – even as they toil as conservative leaders to extol equality in our great nation. Blacks and Whites clash in the streets over destructive behavior and threats to incite a domestic war as Americans have taken to the streets to protest racial inequities during police interactions.
Years after the two-term presidency of the first African-American president, fewer Americans believe that we can end racial discrimination in America than we did just 5-6 years ago. If we are to survive as the global leader and with any sense of a domestic peace, this cannot continue. Therefore, it is encouraging to see some of the “strange” that has occurred during these “scary times” – from conservatives speaking up boldly on racial injustice in uncommon ways to unique cross-sectional conversations discussing “what’s next for a better America”. Yet, having “courageous conversations” as we reflect into the societal mirror of a fractured and subjective freedom will only highlight the realities of a broken promise that has continued for decades on end.
It will take more – a lot more, in fact.
For starters, it will take an iterated, evolving set of initiatives to champion to build long-term successes for constitutional equality for all. Moves that are “feel-goods” more than they are “do-goods” are shallow and not enough. Economic prosperity may never be guaranteed in an American democracy, but a genuine ability to pursue one’s happiness should be.
Ideas from “courageous conversations” must immediately be transitioned into actionable and empowering policies and social mores. In America, ground-breaking “actionable and empowering policies” must also be inspiring to carry the day politically. For plans to take root through the right partnerships and the right politics, it will also take a new set of leaders and alliances made up of Americans that can rebuild the common trust. That bond has been severed and trampled after years of electoral fights, insidious campaigning, unconfined outrage over most things, and calling loudness and rudeness on social media platforms “thought leadership”.
Winning elections and policy debates leveraging the mindset of securing a simple majority has burned both sides because the rules of engagement have changed. Now, that dynamic only serves to enrage the opposing side, regardless of who plays that role in each instance. For a better America, we must rebuild respectful relationships at a time when this nation is divided along multiple lines – not just race. Policies on school choice must make sense for poor Whites in rural America, not just poor Black kids in our largest cities. Just the same, tax cuts for American businesses must make sense for manufacturers and factories in Erie, Pennsylvania just as they do for GE and Amazon – and it must be uplifting for their employees as well. Policies on criminal justice reform must exude the best of our constitutional spirit, not merely react with oft-kilter positions out of emotionalism as a reaction to criminality on either side of the badge.
The reason why we have gotten what we have through multiple corners of American society over the past 20 years – from homegrown terrorism to the election of two of the most unlikely presidential candidates in American history – is because people are simply tired of empty talk. They want leadership. They want action. They are tired of being part of the “forgotten America”. They are tired of incidents reminding them repeatedly that they are de facto second-class citizens in all aspects of society. They want Congress to work satisfactorily. They want jobs to successfully return from overseas and resettle in American towns. They want to be free, secure, and valued. They grew up hearing about American Exceptionalism – a phrase no one seems to use anymore, much less believe in. They want that for themselves and they want that for their children. They know that all that they want will not come from more conversations, rousing campaign speeches, or a series of photo ops. It will only come from thought leaders who inspire us to act and succeed, eloquent direction that prompts us to heal and grow, and tough love that serves to challenge, comfort, and champion us simultaneously.
We have to choose, not just what we believe in, but who do we believe we are in the chaos that has become 2020. Are we a nation that treats Americans who differ from us as slightly more than detestable hirelings and slaves? Or are we a nation that can again be blessed with peace because we are, in this moment, the home of the brave?