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July 05, 2018

America the Restless

It’s the Fourth of July as I write this. I’m proud to be an American. I’m apprehensive but hopeful for my country.

We’re prosperous: more jobs than people willing and/or qualified to take them. That’s a high-class problem to have. This is a wonderful time to tackle the problem of multi-generational joblessness and poverty. Shame on us if we don’t.

Almost none of our armed men and women are in combat although many are still in harm’s way. With energy independence clearly in reach, we can be especially judicious in avoiding quagmires – at least in the Middle East. We can use our own vast energy supplies to help our friends (Europe) escape dependence on energy from our adversaries (Russia and Iran, for example).

Yet we are anything but complacent, which is a good thing IMO. “The establishment” is being thrown out of office worldwide, sometimes by the left, sometimes by the right, and even sometimes by a left-right coalition (Italy). Power has, as power will, become too concentrated. The new leaders are certainly not always better people than the old leaders; some are worse. Revolutions lead more often to chaos and then tyranny than to a democratic utopia, as Niall Ferguson brilliantly explains in The Square and the Tower; nevertheless entrenched power eventually sucks the wealth and hope from a society as it grows stronger and stronger.

The deplorable bank bailout in the great recession was a clear example that both traditional American political parties had become welded to wealth and committed to the protection of the wealthy even when they (the wealthy) have gambled and failed. Ruthless globalization (of which I was a proponent) disproportionately benefited the already successful. Employers always favor massive immigration to keep wages down; labor wants immigration restricted to keep wages high. Industrialized countries have generally struck a balance in which a lack of workers doesn’t stifle growth and a flood of immigrants doesn’t crush wages.  That balance was lost when “the center” in Europe especially and the US to a lesser extent allowed a flood of illegal immigrants. The center (aka establishment) has now seen the backlash; it isn’t pretty.

I’m uncomfortable writing the last few sentences; I’m a descendant of fairly recent immigrants (Jews) who weren’t very popular when they arrived but were allowed to stay and eventually prosper. The America I’m proud of was built mostly by immigrants. We can’t shut the door behind ourselves.  We also can’t be hypocrites who limit immigration by law but then criticize the enforcement of the law.

But I’m hopeful. We the people are at least facing the questions the establishment would just as soon have had left to them. We are questioning ourselves. We may force Congress to act rather than let policy be set by presidents and courts. While the President often tweets vitriol and falsehoods and certainly hasn’t drained the swamp (I’m making no excuse for him), he also breaks the stultifying bonds of political correctness and points out (rudely) that some emperors have no clothes. He speaks to those left behind by the elites (as does Bernie Sanders); he may even listen to them. “The resistance” mobilizes marches and conducts registration drives; that’s good, not bad. Democracy flourishes on dissent and debate. The last thing we need are safe zones where uncomfortable issues can’t be raised (that’s a hallmark of tyranny).

We are America the restless. Our success is certainly not guaranteed. But complacency would guarantee failure and prosperity gives us room to try and try again.

Happy Independence Day.

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