In the increasingly petty and bitter U.S. political squabble, are “they” really the enemy, or just neighbors with different (and perhaps confused) ideas on how to achieve common goals? Maybe it’s time to define those goals…and find out.
The American people are angry, confused, and embittered; the political class is mired in childish soundbites to score meaningless points when it is not shadow-boxing in deep collusion to keep the people confused, the more easily to continue ripping them off. The primary enemy of both parties is the Great American Hero who will stand tall, blow his whistle, and demonstrate that the Emperor has no clothes.
This sad situation has given rise to two competing hypotheses:
H1 = They’re out to get us.
They are nasty folks, so acquisitive that they do not even care about their children’s future, much less that of the country, and as for the world, well, that and nature herself exist to be consumed.
H2 = We are all in this together.
They are disillusioned and short-sighted, but at heart, we are all Americans, all patriots, all parents, all neighbors.
If H1 is true, we need to identify “them,” marginalize them, defeat them, and save the country. The individuals need to be arrested, convicted, and jailed. If H2 is true, we need to identify common goals and practical strategies for achieving them with justice and within budget.
So are some of “us” really nasty, brutish pirates who enjoy abusing neighbors and trashing society’s future prospects just to line their own pockets and show off their power? How many of [A) the man in the street OR B) the super-rich] really need to be jailed or exterminated?
If we the people share anger, confusion, and bitterness, might we perhaps agree among ourselves that, rather than trading childish soundbites, the better part of our future, not to mention valor, would be to search for areas of agreement? In the process of doing that, we are likely to discover that most of “us” just differ over means rather than goals. We are likely, if we can stop insulting each other long enough to consider the problems honestly, to find that we can, in fact, define reasonable criteria for behavior and agree that indeed people really must be held personally responsible for certain categories of misbehavior. This approach seems worth a try, because otherwise we are going to destroy ourselves.
The Hard Part
Now comes the hard part, where we all suddenly stop smiling at each other and the claws come back out. I will nonetheless venture to offer a couple initial ideas that I hope virtually everyone in American society can accept. Then it will be your turn to modify and supplement this little list until “we the people” or “we, the 99%” or if necessary some smaller percent have defined a program for American renewal.
No trite sound bites, here. No “motherhood and apple pie,” no “we love America.” Only precise, comprehensible policy positions. Everyone is of course free to disagree – but only with specific reasons and alternative proposals. And I am not going to start with something easy.
1. Income tax rates should be lower than capital gains.
Society benefits from a populace that works, builds, accomplishes, improves. Investing, and especially skimming a profit off other people’s money, is fine but not a core social goal. Whatever tax rate you prefer, tax law should always offer the person willing to work an incentive.
2. Robo-signing is fraud and must be punished.
Any banker or mortgage loan official who presents fraudulent documents and any judge who intentionally looks the other way and accepts fraudulent documents from such a banker or mortgage officer for the purpose of stealing a house from a homeowner willing to pay his mortgage must be held personally responsible and brought to trial.
3. Austerity first for the rich.
Sacrifice for the good of society is sometimes necessary; austerity is a legitimate policy option. However, sacrifice should be shared at least in proportion to one’s means, if not requiring a greater proportional contribution by those who have more to give. Just as the aged are the last to be asked to fight, the poor are the last who should be asked to accept austerity.
4. No profit from war.
War may, in the long course of human affairs, be inevitable, but it is certainly to be avoided when possible, so no public policy choices should be made that arbitrarily provide incentives to start a war. To wit, the profits of arms corporations and the incomes of corporate officers should be cut during wartime. No one should make a profit off the deaths of our sons and daughters. By the same logic, the politicians who vote for war should take a reduction in salary, and everyone should suffer a tax penalty during war as a form of “war austerity,” to remind us all that war is never free.
5. Protect whistle-blowers first, listen to the message second, punish third.
We need to get past the argument over whether or not the person who accuses is a hero or traitor. That is irrelevant for society: for society, the issue is whether or not the information exposed illustrates a problem to be solved. The first reaction to a case of whistle-blowing should be to protect the whistle-blower. The second reaction should be to investigate the charges brought by the whistle-blower against power. Only after public evaluation of the charges should any legal action against the whistle-blower be contemplated. The right to wash dirty government or corporate laundry in public is absolutely core to the survival of democracy and liberty.
That’s my short list, just to get us started. Surely, these constitute some pretty reasonable goals for creating a fair and united society, do they not?