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.