As the difficult year of 2021 draws to a close and we begin to prepare for a challenging year 2022, I think it is important that we, as a nation, redirect our energies to some important and urgent national priorities.
The years of 2020 and 2021 were fraught with knee-jerk reactions to an avalanche of unanticipated events. And those reactions were tainted by political considerations over the needs of the nation. Covid briefings became opportunities to aggrandize the stature of the president but had the opposite effect. In 2020 President Trump was blamed by some for hundreds of thousands of deaths from the pandemic, in 2021 President Biden was blamed by others for even more hundreds of thousands of deaths. Adversaries moved troops to the border of the Ukraine and flew sorties into Taiwanese airspace. The economy tanked from government imposed lockdowns and the recovery blocked by emergency benefits that were better than going back to work. Money was thrown at our problems with reckless abandon in an attempt to not only relieve suffering but also to gain political advantage. One side wants to restrict access to voting to guard the integrity of the electoral process while the other side wants to eliminate all restrictions on voting (both sides more motivated by the opportunity for political advantage than real concern for democratic principles). And all this mayhem has left American citizens confused, dispirited and unhappy with the state of our democracy.
Our political leaders are so focused on promoting their party’s agenda and their own reelection that they have no idea of which direction the country is going, and worse since they are supposed to be our leaders, where it should be going. We, as a people, are faced with a plethora of urgent priorities and we need to make sure our political leaders focus on those priorities. As I see it, the priorities fall into two broad categories: 1) national priorities, and 2) political priorities.
Urgent National Priorities
There are priorities that affect all Americans, rich and poor, black and white, young and old, whatever. We live in a complex and dangerous world. While our country is rich and powerful, it is not invulnerable. We cannot ignore the events happening around us and we need to be able to influence those events or be prepared to suffer the consequences. Each of these topics could probably fill an entire book, but I am throwing them out for your consideration in the hope that you will take action to stop this drift into oblivion.
Many Americans may not care about the fate confronting people in the Ukraine and Taiwan, but the threats to these countries by Russia and China (who have joined together in an informal authoritarian alliance) will not be limited to those unfortunate countries. The threats have expanded into Europe, the countries bordering the South China Sea and will eventually envelop the globe. And direct threats against the United States can be seen in Russian hypersonic missiles intended to evade our defenses and an expanding nuclear arsenal in hardened Chinese silos. And yet the Biden Administration wants to cut back on defense spending (on an inflation adjusted basis) and greatly increase spending on non-defense programs. Both the Trump and Biden administrations have angered and confused our democratic allies around the world with erratic and ineffective policies. Abandoning the Kurds (Trump), abandoning the Afghans (Biden) and not consulting allies (both of them). Allies that have troops posted next to ours and at the mercy to our shifting policies (driven by domestic politics).
The US is ill-prepared to face these challenges. The US Navy is smaller and older than the growing Chinese Navy. The US abandoned development of hypersonic missiles because of the cost. Our navigational satellites are vulnerable to attack. We are under daily cyberattack by various nation states. We need to develop a strategy to address these international challenges (such as the National Security Strategy developed by H.R. McMaster in 2017 and ignored by President Trump) and come up with the money needed to implement that strategy.
The International Order
The international order established by the United States and the victorious allies after World War Two (the United Nations, the Bretton Woods financial institutions, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT)), created a world order that served, not only the interests of the United Sates and its allies, but the entire world. It was a world order that promoted cooperation between countries to replace great power confrontations. These institutions helped to cement an economic and political system that resisted the Soviet Union during the Cold War and paved the way to economic growth and the Washington consensus after the fall of the Soviet Union. But these institutions have been coopted and captured by forces inimical to the United States and the world order it created. China, in particular, has infiltrated institutions such as the World Health Organization, the World Trade Organization, Interpol, the Paris Climate Accord and others to support its national interest. The reaction of the Trump Administration was to go it alone and to dropout or ignore these institutions (which only made it easier for the Chinese to take over). And in reaction to Trump’s policies, the Biden Administration is naively rejoining these institutions as if they still represented the Washington consensus world order. They don’t.
We can no longer be assured that these institutions will protect our democratic ideals and Enlightenment principles, although the Biden Administration has been deluded into thinking that diplomatic negotiations through these institutions will solve all our problems. They are wrong. If these institutions cannot be wrested from the hands of those countries with interests inimical to ours, then we must create new institutions, in cooperation with our allies, that will represent our interests.
The onset of Covid and the increasing authoritarianism of China has brought on the realization that the American economy is highly vulnerable to outside forces. Globalization has provided great prosperity for many people around the globe but has created pockets of poverty and destitution across our country. As a candidate, Donald Trump recognized the decimation of the American working class and leveraged that insight into the White House. His instinct might have been on target, but his aim was off as he targeted allies and adversaries equally.
Offshoring key sections of the productive processes (such as manufacturing), and increasing efficiency through just-on-time inventory management, may have helped the bottom line of US corporations but has made America vulnerable to global events beyond our control, events such as Covid. Highly efficient systems are often also very fragile systems, as described by Nassim Taleb in his book, Antifragile. Redundancy may be very costly, but it is also antifragile. The highly efficient global economic system that has created so much prosperity around the world and lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty is dependent on all the participants playing by the same set of rules. According to Game Theory, when one participant does not play by the rules, that participant can maximize gains at the expense of others (if you think I am referring to China, you are correct). But when the other participants realize that they are being played for suckers, the whole system breaks apart. This is the stage at which the world economy is right now.
We need to rewrite the rules to better reflect reality and limit the players to only those willing to live by the rules. As the largest most prosperous economy in the world, the United States can lead this change along with the cooperation of our friends and allies. But we cannot provide that leadership if our industry is burdened with high taxes and hampered by onerous regulations. The Biden Administration’s Build Back Better plan, which focuses on social justice priorities over national priorities, will impair the ability of the United States to provide the needed global economic leadership, and allow our adversaries to write the rules in their favor.
Education will be a major political issue in the 2022 elections, but likely for the wrong reasons. Education as instituted in the United States at the primary, secondary, college and post-graduate level is failing America. Education in the United States is no longer a mechanism for the advancement of the American people. In the past poor people and immigrants were able to get ahead and join the middle class by getting a solid education. Black people, segregated from white schools by Jim Crow laws, created their own institutions such the historically black colleges which still do a better job of preparing black people for a productive role in society than so-called elite universities. The GI bill gave troops returning home World War Two the ability to lead productive lives that powered the US economy for decades.
American teachers may have a strong union, but they get a failing grade for not preparing our children to lead productive lives in adulthood. Our kids need to learn math, geometry, algebra and calculus – not equitable math. They need to learn history, not ideology wrapped in a façade of a false narrative. We need standardized tests, not only as a way to determine aptitude or fitness for a course of study, but also as a guide to where improvement is needed. Teaching victimhood and blaming white privilege for the lack of advancement, does not prepare children for a vibrant and fulfilling life, but only to be a recipient of benefits created and provided by others. And a nation of victims will not be able to protect our country from the threats that abound around the world.
Dealing with Covid
We are going to have to learn to live with Covid. The omicron variant will be followed by pi, rho, sigma variants and many others. Covid will become like influenza, an annual nuisance to be dealt with. One way to deal with Covid is through vaccination. Vaccination apparently does not keep a person from getting Covid (I am proof of that) but the cases among vaccinated people are much less severe than the cases among the unvaccinated. Many of the unvaccinated claim that the government has no right to force them to be vaccinated, and they are correct. But the government does not have an obligation to pay for the hospitalization of the unvaccinated. Medicare and Medicaid should stop reimbursement for the hospitalization of unvaccinated people and insurance companies should raise rates for the unvaccinated or increase their co-pay (substantially). Maybe once the unvaccinated are required to pay for their beliefs instead of passing the increased costs onto the vaccinated perhaps we can move on, depoliticize the pandemic and begin to put Covid behind us.
The changing environment is a problem, but it is not an American problem, it is a global problem. Reducing America’s carbon footprint will not stop the increasing amount of carbon in the atmosphere being put there by other countries around the world. Because of the unreliability of renewable energy, Germany had to fire up its coal-powered plants to keep the country warm this winter, and China is building 43 brand new coal-fired power plants to fuel its economy and military buildup. Sacrificing our energy producing capabilities to show leadership while weakening us economically and militarily is a fool’s errand. There are ways we can face this problem without committing national suicide as described by former Undersecretary for Science, Steven Koonin in his book, Unsettled. We can decrease our vulnerability to climate change through actions to mitigate the impact of climate change. Even though natural disasters are increasing in frequency and ferocity due to climate change, according to many pundits, deaths and injuries from these disasters have been greatly reduced. We need to be realistic about dealing with climate change, not idealistic.
These are the great national priorities that need to be addressed. You may be able to think of other priorities that are relevant to all Americans. But these great national priorities have been pushed aside by our so-called leaders who focus on narrow political priorities.
We are also faced with other priorities. But these are political priorities, established by people with an agenda. None of these priorities address existential threats to the United States or its people. Some may be popular, but in today’s hyper-partisan environment, there is little likelihood of reaching a consensus or even a compromise on any of these issues. These issues will consume much of the political dialogue in the months leading up to the next election. Some of these political priorities are actually opposed to achieving our urgent national priorities. None of these issues should be allowed to detract from the importance of addressing the urgent national issues.
These are the Urgent Political Priorities
The 2020 Election Fraud and the January 6th Riot
The tragic events surrounding the 2020 elections (Trump’s maniacal insistence that the election was fraudulent and the January 6th riot of Trump’s base to block the certification of the election) will forever be a dark stain in history books yet to be written. But Donald Trump continues to insist on his claims of having been cheated either because he has lost touch with reality (a dangerous assumption when dealing with Donald Trump) or as a mechanism to inflame his base. He is using it as a litmus test that GOP candidates must pass to show their loyalty to Trump and his pretensions. The purpose of the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack created by Nancy Pelosi is not out to seek justice but to continually parade Trump’s actions before the American people. Both Trump and Pelosi want to keep his name on the front page because they believe it serves their political interests. But it doesn’t serve the national interest.
Most rational people want to put these events behind us and move on. Glenn Youngkin’s victory in in Virginia’s off-year election was done without the involvement of Donald Trump (although he endorsed Youngkin he did not campaign for him) and Youngkin studiously avoided the topic of the 2020 election in his campaign.
The Build Back Better Act and the For the People Act
The proposed legislation involved in the Build Back Better Act and the For the People Act (both passed by the House but stalled in the Senate) is designed to convert President Biden’s mandate into a generational change in the relationship between the US government and the American people. But President Biden and the Democrats have no such mandate. Candidate Biden received 51.3% of the popular vote (hardly a landslide) while the Senate ended up in a 50/50 tie (and only because of Trump’s disastrous intervention in the Georgia run-off election) and the Republicans made inroads to the Democratic majority in the House. These two House bills appear to have been blocked by Senator Joe Manchin’s no vote (along with Kyrsten Sinema’s).
But the Democrats believe that Republican intransigence can be used at the ballot box. They insist that these bills are very popular however, the reality is that only 41% of those polled supported Build Back Better according to a recent NPR/Marist poll. The hard core of the left and the right want to transform America into who knows what. But whatever America would result from these efforts, it would be an America ill prepared to meet the urgent national priorities previously discussed or one that would make life better for the American people.
Antiracism and Diversity, Inclusion and Equity
Wokeness appears to be enveloping our most trusted national institutions, our universities, our local school boards, our corporations and even our sports teams. Wokeness is cloaked in uplifting terms such as diversity, equity and inclusion but has, at its heart, a racially based egalitarianism that seeks the end of America as we know. But parents are beginning to realize what is being taught in their schools, donors to the trust funds of woke universities are turning off the tap, DIE indoctrination is being rejected by workers. These events are happening because many people have come to realize that antiracism and critical race theory are false narratives designed to re-racialize America. Proponents of antiracism and critical race theory want to divert America’s attention away from urgent national priorities to the benefit of their priorities.
Trump’s putsch on American democracy failed, the Biden agenda is unpopular (along with President Biden) and people are waking up to wokeness. But a lot can happen in the ten months or so until the 2022 elections. I am haunted by the fact that although Hitler’s putsch failed in 1923, ten years later he was chancellor of Germany (a similar path as Hugo Chavez and other populists). And fanatics dedicated to extreme causes will never give up, they can only be marginalized. And our adversaries will be constantly engaged in cyberwarfare to exacerbate our political differences and undermine our democracy.
So, we need to focus on our national priorities and overlook some of our political differences. When politicians try to sidetrack us into their political priorities, we must constantly remind them of their obligation to address our national priorities. You need to contact your elected representatives and tell them to focus on these great national interests and not their narrow political interests. You can send them a copy of this commentary. I have sent copies to mine. You need to be politically active and to vote in primary elections as well as general elections. You need to make your voice heard.