Sometimes, this blog focuses so much on the crazy, the hateful, and the depressing that the whole human landscape seems bleak. I’m not going to apologize for pointing to the problems we face, because they’re real and we need to think long and hard about solutions. But an unremitting focus on the “dark side” can be misleading.
There are also bright spots in that landscape.
I’ve been subscribing to a Substack newsletter called Persuasion. A recent one consisted of an interview with Yascha Mounk. Mounk is a professor at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, a contributing writer at The Atlantic, and the founder of Persuasion. He recently published a book titled “The Great Experiment: Why Diverse Democracies Fall Apart and How They Can Endure,” and it was the focus of an interview conducted by Ravi Gupta.
Mounk readily concedes that diversity makes democratic government difficult. The very human proclivity to prefer those with whom we share an identity makes civic equality a “really difficult thing to get right.” But then he says
I also want to make people a little bit more optimistic, because I think when you look at the injustices today, and you don’t have that perspective, you might think, “What’s wrong with us? Why are we so terrible?” But then when you compare it to other times and other places, you realize this is just a really, really hard thing we’re trying to do. Yes, we’re failing in certain respects, but we’re succeeding in other respects. We’re doing much better today than we did fifty years ago. We’re doing vastly better today than we did a hundred years ago. That, I think, can give you the hope to build a vision for the kind of society you want to live in, and to make sure that our society doesn’t fall apart, but actually thrives and succeeds.
At the conclusion of the interview, he returns to that optimism.
When I look at what’s actually going on in society, I don’t despair. America has become much more tolerant in the last decades. We have really rapid socioeconomic progress of minority and immigrant groups, in a way that’s rarely appreciated by either the left or the right. The best study suggests that immigrants from Central or South America, for example, are rising up the socio-economic ranks as rapidly as Irish and Italian Americans did a century ago. This shows that the far-right is wrong in believing that there’s something somehow inferior about them. But it also shows that parts of the left are wrong in thinking that our countries are so racist and so discriminatory that nonwhite people don’t have opportunity. Thankfully, actually, people have opportunity. We see that in the way in which their children or grandchildren in particular are rising up very rapidly. Now, there are also all kinds of sensible things we can do in terms of how we think about our country, the education we engage in, the kind of patriotism we embrace, the kinds of policies and acts of Congress that we should pass—and that’s important, too. But fundamentally, my optimism comes from the developments that I already see happening in society.
Mounk rests his argument on verifiable data; my own (occasional) optimism is more anecdotal and scattered. Just a few of my observations, in no particular order:
When I was still teaching, the university students who filled my classes were overwhelmingly inclusive and committed to their communities, the common good, and the rule of law.
The massive demonstrations in the wake of George Floyd’s murder were multi-racial–the first time I have witnessed widespread diversity in racial protests.
Someone recently reminded me that eighty million Americans came out during a pandemic to vote against Donald Trump.
There’s constant progress on efforts to combat climate change– like recent development of a new, thinner and more efficient solar panel.
Increasing numbers of out LGBTQ people are being elected to political office, and not just in blue parts of the U.S.
Ketanji Brown Jackson will join the Supreme Court.
For the past week, my husband and I have been on a cruise (we’re headed for Amsterdam to visit our middle son). We have taken previous cruises, and virtually all the couples we met on those trips were devotees of Fox News. I still recall some of the dismissive comments (and worse) leveled by these financially comfortable travelers about poorer (and darker) Americans. I am very happy to report that everyone we’ve had an opportunity to converse with on this trip has at some point indicated strong disapproval of what the GOP has become. Several–like yours truly–identify as “refugees” from the Republican Party.
It’s anecdotal, true…but encouraging.
24 thoughts on “On The Other Hand…”
Thanks for starting the day on a positive note. There are so many smart people doing good work all over the world, we could be on the brink of a much better world. I think I heard a Madeline Albright quote yesterday that she considered herself an optimist who worries a lot. That sounds about right to me.
It was 81,284,666 votes.
Great points to keep in mind!
For me, the one thing missing from Mounk’s argument is the shrinking of the middle class. There is significant evidence showing how the tax changes under Reagan led to the creation of a super-wealthy class. Four hundred super-wealthy Americans own as much as 60% of the American population – about 150 million people (https://www.huffpost.com/entry/400-richest-own-more-than-150-million-poorest_n_5c60f627e4b0eec79b250c34). This transfer of wealth has had a direct negative impact on these American’s opportunities. Corporations and the super-wealthy have suppressed wages and reduced benefits over the past 40 years. The minimum wage has been stagnant – $7.25 since 2009. While many states have set higher minimums, it is worth noting that in 1980 the minimum wage was $3.10. That equated to $9.86 in 2019 dollars (https://usafacts.org/articles/minimum-wage-america-how-many-people-are-earning-725-hour/?utm_source=bing&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=ND-Economy&msclkid=9c907e5ba1cf19c50e2b1c31d25496cc). Unless this is addressed, significant progress will be difficult. It is not in the interests of the super-wealthy or corporations.
As painful as it was to experience 4 years of a unabashed racist and bigot in the White House, it feels as though he served as the motivation we need to pursue a more perfect union.
As the professor has suggested in previous posts, I spent a few minutes checking out Persuasion by Yascha and he seems to be another cancel culture warrior who stands in the middle canceling out the right and left and bringing in centrists to discuss matters.
It certainly sounds familiar. Like, maybe, Barack Obama giving speeches about disinformation as an entitled Neoliberal owned by Wall Street. Not exactly a working-class stiff!
Or, Joe Biden wants to work with the GOP like the good old days when they helped the working class overcome inequality.
The problem is they are both delusional. They are shills of the Wall Street oligarchy condemning any meaningful social or economic issues – canceling them from the discussion.
MLK referred to them as the “comfortable” who serve the Elite. We all know the derogatory names for them.
Now, before y’all Lefty Hoosiers cancel me, here is a quote from another lefty, Alex Shephard at The New Republic:
“Persuasion has the feel of a club of no-longer-coddled elites, banded together in an attempt to maintain their status in a rapidly changing world.”
Thank you Professor Kennedy,
We needed this!
“Mounk readily concedes that diversity makes democratic government difficult.”
But the human race IS diverse; democracy IS diverse. It is those in government today who want to end diversity who are making our democratic government more than difficult, they are making it impossible. I accepted the GOP as a political party when their foundation accepted diversity as a civil and human right as Americans. Before they began enacting laws to suppress our civil and voting rights. I even voted for a few of them as an Independent voter till ending that in 2000. Most of us on this blog accept diversity and it’s many areas of diversity; Dictatorship is not a factor of diversity as we watch the Trump GOP control from its minority position due to fear of members speaking publicly against him. Putin has his knee on the neck of the world with his threats of a nuclear WWIII if the world does not allow him to occupy and destroy democratic nations, at this time only those bordering on Russia.
At this time, the “On The Other Hand” consists of Trump and Putin who share one goal; the goal to end diversity and democracy world wide and replace it with their Dictatorship. Is Putin upended, exposing his genitals to the sun to increase his testosterone as he broadens his threats to use nuclear weaponry to start WWIII? We are now seeing as much of Trump and his words and actions as we have since he came down that escalator in 2015 and carried out his threat to become President of the United States of American. “It ain’t over till it’s over.” and Trump remains our “On The Other Hand” without the diversity of the original GOP. Trump and Putin rule!
Elon Musk is becoming a third party as he turned Twitter into a monopoly and controls freedom of speech. Will the unsubscribers to Twitter make a difference” Trump created his own Internet social media program. Will Musk’s billions take control of our NASA program as he begins his own space travel business?
And where do we, as the majority of Americans, fit into any of this?
Why doesn’t Todd Smekens come out publicly and admit he supports Trump and his GOP?
Believe it or not, JoAnn, one doesn’t have to identify with one party or the other in the USA. If you believe Einstein, Chomsky, and Princeton University, which I do, you clearly see that both political parties are part of the problem. It’s actually quite apparent for anyone claiming to have critical thinking skills.
You should really spend a day researching what an oligarchy means and how they are structured.
You might even have a few A-ha moments.
A bastion of sanity. Thank you.
Thanks Sheila for starting the day with a positive news post.
With regard to our country becoming more accepting of LGBTQ people, a great example of this is Pete Buttigieg. Not only was he twice elected the mayor of a city in Indiana (nothing short of a miracle), he was accepted and respected as a candidate to be the President of the U.S. and I believe that he will be elected President in 2028 if he chooses to run.
Thanks for this column! It’s crucial to hold our ideals high while working hard to achieve the multitude of things necessary for all to experience the reality in their lives and the lives of children who follow.
The one contributor on this blog who seems to never miss a day when that contributor throws up on himself by showing us all how biased and demented his comments are regarding ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING. As some posts have said, “I just ignore his rants.”
THAT is the most positive advice one could give.
Yes, there are positive things out there, but the 25% are screaming more loudly than the rest. The media, needing to make money, follows the loudest voices thus creating the illusion that the 25% are the majority. They are not. The 25% include the likes of Smekens, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, Matt Goetz, Kevin McCarthy and all the right-wing disinformation purveyors.
So, the drill here is to get out the vote this coming November as the rational 75% did in 2020. We MUST retain control of the Senate and the House or all will be lost to the screaming, foaming minority. THAT will be the most positive thing any of us could do: Take somebody to the polls.
Mounk sees through a political/economic lens. My concern is the overarching cultural one – our world of ME/my micro-tribe with no underlying common values/standards – “anything goes”.
One way to consider us humans is that we are spread over several times in terms of the abstraction of what eras are we each living in. In a perfect world we’d all be caught up but that’s not the real world. In the real world some are caught up, some are a century behind, some only a few decades behind but angry at not being where everyone is. What we really want is for everyone to be where we and the people we know are.
In the grand scheme of things life is a struggle to adapt and in the modern world the rate of change just overwhelms us all of the time. Some us work hard at maintaining our adaption to all of the changes but some get tired of doing that and become bitter about those who don’t tire of new.
Humans can be the absolute best for each other and the absolute worst and there’s no better example of that now than the Ukraine.
Yes a majority of Republicans seem to be bat s..t crazy. Remember that that is a majority of an ever shrinking minority. They are loud and obnoxious and threatening, but there are fewer and fewer of them.
At this moment, we have a critical worker shortage. Seems it might be a good time to open our borders and accept more refugees, whether they be refugees from war, tyranny, or poverty. As much as the right would rather see us only accept refugees from Norway, I seriously believe that they wouldn’t come here only to lose the social support network they have at home. Let’s accept those who want to be here, even if they’re not white or Christian.
Acknowledging the batshit craziness of the right-wing GOP does not make you a critical thinker or a ‘woke person.’ It falls under the category of ‘no-shit.’
Now, turn those magnifying glasses on the Democratic Party losers like Joe Biden who helped create the mess in Ukraine with his pals, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
If you consider Biden, Obama, or Clinton as the woke left you are delusional at best. If you think Trump is the solution, you’re beyond delusional. 😉
So, let’s all run Todd Smekens for President. He seems to have all the answers. He certainly blames everyone for our problems, so that assumes he knows all the answers.
I wonder how his pet oligarchs would take his rants.
Whatever else you folks think of Todd – he is WITH IT! He has a “brand”, runs it with “anything goes” and has created his own metaverse of standards and values.
“an unremitting focus on the ‘dark side’ can be misleading.”
I’m sorry, but American democracy is taking its last breaths and is about to disappear. I think part of the problem is creating false equivalencies to make it seem less of critical. Normalizing it. That’s what the average German did as the Nazi Party won government control.
It’s good to remember the bright spots. I hope memories is not all we’ll have.
There is no good reason to believe that Africans, Central Americans and Asians who come to our shores these days make worse citizens than the Europeans who preceded them. Nor is there any good reason to believe that those of one gender or the other or those of one sexual orientation or the other make worse citizens than the Europeans who preceded them.
None of these or of any others will ever meet the standards for perfection Todd seems to demand as a yardstick in his “Look what Einstein said”-“The oligarchy is at fault for all human frailities” subjective discourses. Einstein was a great natural scientist but an average social scientist just as Socrates and Plato were great political scientists but perhaps average chariot drivers.
Mere identification of those who create our problems even if accurate does not solve the problems they cause. See Putin and the war in Ukraine, corporate counsel who write the internal revenue code for the veneer and pretense of legislative approval into law etc., and while some or most of these can be traced to Todd’s oligarchy rant, an argument can be made that such oligarchy is in itself the result of human greed and lust for power and not the direct cause.
Whatever the dialectic, my rant goes to solution of problems caused rather than by the relatively easy identification of those causing them, such easy identification amounting to an indirect form of “whataboutism.” Thus the territorial ambitions of Putin or the ravages of inflation or the destruction of our environment by merely identifying those who cause them solves nothing. Let’s instead use our time and energy to reverse these results in substantive fashion via adoption of policies that call for global housekeeping and a continuing dedication to the common good – and let’s do it today.
Gerald – Hard to have “common good” without “common” values, standards, ethics, caring…Instead, we have “my”….
Worldwide dissemination of information, the Internet, forces everyone to acknowledge diversity, and it’s scary, triggering old evolved fears of the Other.
We’ll deal with it or we won’t. From Woke to Putin, it’s all the Other.
Lester: Good point. Repair of the ruptured understanding of the common good should have our attention if we can manage having a conversation between the warring sides of the issue. Perhaps we need diplomats rather than politicians to set the stage for such conversations since not all Republicans want to overthrow the government and not all Democrats fearful of losing their jobs want even a managed immigration policy – so there may be room for a common understanding of what the common good is, and with effort and good will, how it can be improved upon as we confront the certainty of change as we move down the road.
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