The Times They are A-Changing…Maybe

I spend a lot of time–way too much, actually–scanning the news and following current policy debates. Part of that is my job; when you teach in a school of public affairs you are expected to keep abreast of those affairs. Part of it is morbid curiosity.

Anyone who is surveying the current American landscape  can certainly find plenty of reasons to be depressed, and I share many of those reasons on this blog. But here and there it is also possible to detect more positive signs, indications of a counter-narrative to the anti-intellectualism, nativism and fundamentalism that makes sound policy so difficult. (I  realize that many of our more shrill ideologues don’t consider these omens good news…)

If, as many historians suggest, there is a political pendulum that moves America from Left to Right and back again, we may be seeing the leading edge of a swing back from the far, far Right where it has been for several years, back toward the rational center. 

Recently, the Upworthy site posted eleven reasons to be optimistic about America’s future. The list began by noting that, a mere eleven years ago, only one state (Massachusetts) had marriage equality; now all of them do.

For all of the hysteria over the Affordable Care Act–aka “Obamacare”–the number of uninsured Americans has declined over 30%. The teen pregnancy rate is the lowest it has been in 25 years. The smoking rate has been cut in half.  Life expectancy is up.

Unemployment is down, and efforts to raise the minimum wage are beginning to gain traction. The use of renewable energy, especially solar energy, has grown significantly, and a majority of Americans take climate change seriously and want government to address it.

Like previous “Great Awakenings,” the most recent wave of extreme religiosity has abated considerably; the latest survey results from Pew find nearly 25% of Americans unaffiliated. Bernie Sanders draws enormous crowds of voters concerned with growing inequality. Activists have mounted an energetic effort to pass a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United. New movements like Black Lives Matter are bringing needed attention to the persistence and consequences of American racism.

Even in the Middle East, there are signs that should encourage us. Reuters reports that thousands of ordinary Iraqis have taken to the streets of Baghdad to protest government corruption and to demand a secular state and an end to Sunni or Shia control of government.

There’s much more.

Genuine social change doesn’t come peacefully, of course. We may be in for a rough time, not unlike the turbulent 60s. But surely, a measure of social unrest is preferable to continued acquiescence with inequality, plutocracy and fundamentalism.


  1. Me, too! I’d almost given up on reading the news. But maybe this is the storm before the calm.

  2. Not to mention that up to 11 more states with a strong possibility of relegalization of Cannabis next year.

  3. From the Seattle Times >>> After nearly a year of deliberation, the state Supreme Court ruled late Friday afternoon that charter schools are not constitutional. In the ruling, Chief Justice Barbara Madsen wrote that charter schools aren’t “common schools” because they’re governed by appointed rather than elected boards.
    Therefore, “money that is dedicated to common schools is unconstitutionally diverted to charter schools,” Madsen wrote.
    The ruling is a victory for the coalition that filed the suit in July 2013, asking a judge to declare the law unconstitutional for “improperly diverting public-school funds to private organizations that are not subject to local voter control.”

    “The Supreme Court has affirmed what we’ve said all along — charter schools steal money from our existing classrooms, and voters have no say in how these charter schools spend taxpayer funding,” said Kim Mead, president of the Washington Education Association.

    Perhaps this is a part of the roll back of privatization of our schools.

  4. Even this ruckus in Kentucky over marriage licenses is, to my way of thinking, a good thing. The issue of civil rights is again before us to teach a new generation the lessons of freedom. Those lessons need to be taught over and over again. Let us all pay attention in class.

  5. I am skeptical about Citizen’s United being overturned because frankly, those politicians love that money coming in from everywhere and everybody that can swing their dollars toward their campaigns, but I haven’t lost hope. #FeeltheBern

  6. Thank you, Sheila! It is good to be reminded that steps and strides have been made for the benefit of people. I wish that some battles didn’t need to be re-fought, but I am glad that they are and that lessons can be taught and retaught.

  7. The right left pendulum could also be viewed as the human penchant for progress being cyclicly damed and released.

    Life is programmed to evolve. To try everything but spread and hang onto those things that work better – and this is key – in the current environment.

    So human culture mimics physical evolution and natural selection.

    We can get stuck on Groundhog Day endlessly repeating our foolishness. But while we are, there is a building feeling of dissatisfaction.

    I personally believe that those dynamics are testament to the wisdom of the circle of life – birth and death renewal – but some might attribute it to God impatient with our retarded ways.

    There are forces among us that will not be denied also. Certainly we should begin the necessary preparation on Mt Rushmore for President Obama’s likeness. But among our little family here another such force is Sheila’s tireless efforts to maintain the flame when it seems that the darkness is overwhelming and irresistible.

    Thanks Sheila. Let’s celebrate the dawning.

  8. We’ve won some skirmishes, and a few battles but the war rages on. Now is not the time to lay down arms to pat ourselves on the back over what progress we have made. To paraphrase Robert Frost, “…we have promises to keep and miles to go before we sleep…” Keep on keepin’ on!

  9. I’m afraid JoAnn that it’s not a war to be won but a never ending process. Those who can always push for progress. Those not wired that way always push back trying to stop at their favorite past date – the one that most advantaged them.

    I think that the right message for those tuned to progress is “don’t let the bast@@@@ wear you down”. Just keep coming back. We always win but the rate of progress ebbs and flows.

  10. JoAnn:”We’ve won some skirmishes and a few battles but the war rages on. Now is not the time to lay down arms to pat ourselves on the back over what progress we have made.”

    Pete: “I’m afraid that it is NOT A WAR TO BE WON (emphasis added) but a never ending process.”

    I’m with JoAnn all the way on this one. Pete you’re indulging in a bad case of political wishfull thinking.

    Pete, you’re a very bright guy, but JoAnn is also very bright and her background in this political area is much more extensive than yours.

  11. Marv, I’ve never considered myself a “bright guy” but only one who believes that life is learning. That’s the purpose that some are always in search of.

    99% of what I know others figured out and taught me. 1% I figured out. I try to teach all of it to anyone who might be able to take advantage of it.

    So far I have never met anyone that I couldn’t learn from and teach to.

    So I’m not expecting or waiting for the war to be won. I’m just going to keep up what I’ve always done and appreciate whatever progress results.

    And be thankful.

  12. Pete: “Wars to be won imply there’s an end. Looking over history I’ve never found it.”

    Pete, JoAnn wasn’t implying that at all. She meant battles to be won.

    Reading history is vitally important, but some us have actually witnessed or have been in these battle which involve the elements of war but in a non-violent way.

    As a matter of fact, In 1964, I was the host for Martin Luther Kings’s top two attorneys, Harry Philo, who later became the President of the American Bar Association, and Dean Rabb during MLK’s possibly most important BATTTLE in St. Augustine which many feel forced Congress to finally pass the historic Civil Rights legislation.

    In no way do I mean to diminsh the importance of books or your input in any discussion.

    However, one thing I do know for sure is that democracy ENDED in Germany from 1934-1945.

  13. Ahhh yes. Battles to be won. For sure.

    I’m a foot soldier. I do what I do. I’ve been on the winning and losing side. Prefer winning but don’t dwell on losing. Just learning and teaching.

  14. Louie, I am so pleased to hear that the WA state Supreme Court has ruled that Charter Schools are not constitutional, as this is very good news for those of us who have seen the demise of public school education in favor of charter schools. So we can add this to the list of good things happening that are pushing the pendulum the other direction. We lived in WA state twice and could view up close and personal what was happening to public school funding and quality. It was not a pretty picture, and there is an even more deliberate and devastating movement afoot in ID in favor of charter school funding. So the ‘war’ ebbs and flows, but there are some promising signs of intellectual and financial progress being made in spite of fundamentalism.

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