Have you noticed that despite all of the bold-sounding political claims, the media political churn, and the numerous books claiming political insight, that our problems as a nation seem to chug forward as if we’re destined for disaster? It’s as if the more we immerse ourselves in the politics of the day, the worse our situation becomes. It should be obvious then that politics won’t solve our problems.
I’m not sure that most people get that, or even think along those lines. Swayed by some sort of “patriotic duty” to vote for one party or the other, millions continue to get wrapped up in the political process that increasingly looks like a waste of time. That’s exactly what it is, if you’re expecting progress against the nation’s major ills.
At this point, it really doesn’t matter who you vote for or which party – nothing is likely to change.
How did we get to this point? And how is it that, on the one hand politics is seen as the savior of the nation, while on the other, we seem to be collectively powerless to do anything to fix what’s broken?
I have some theories…
The Republican and Democratic Parties are Lost
Let’s start with healthcare. Within the past 10 years, the Democrats have advanced Obamacare, officially known by the tragically and insultingly ironic title of Affordable Care Act. The Act turned out to be a complete Trojan Horse. It’s filled with wonderful goodies that no one can afford to pay for, and seems certain to blow up within the next 2 to 3 years.
Enter the Republicans. With control of the White House and both houses of Congress, they can’t even get an alternative proposal out of committee. It’s likely that our last chance for anything resembling legitimate health care reform is destined never to make it to the president’s desk.
This is typical of the two major parties in recent years. Neither party has a platform that can be remotely described as cohesive, workable, popular or even explainable. Worse, they carry-on is if a comprehensive party platform is completely unnecessary.
The Democratic Party continues operate as if it still 1960-something, Woodstock is still a thing, and Watergate is the preferred modus operandi. And we can probably thank the mainstream media, but the Republican Party is perpetually on the defensive, fearful of even crafting a comprehensive platform, out of fear that it will be condemned before it’s even published.
We’re getting nothing from either party, and it’s only obvious that that’s exactly what we should expect going forward.
Politics Won’t Solve Our Problems Because It’s Become a Media Circus
One of the reasons why the founding fathers instituted a free press was in the hope that it would act as a watchdog on the government. But since at least the 1970s, the mainstream media has abandoned that role, in favor of biased political activism.
A 2014 article in the Washington Post – a Left leaning publication – reports that just 7% of journalists are Republicans.
It should be obvious where that type of imbalance leads. The mainstream media bias in favor of the Democratic Party is largely to blame for the neutering of the Republican Party.
But even though that arrangement is completely unequal, it actually hurts the Democrats as well. Since the Democrats can completely rely upon mainstream media support, it becomes more convenient for them to mudsling, and periodically resurrect dreams of glorious Watergate to marginalize Republicans. As a result, they concern themselves more with painting the Republicans evil, than coming up workable solutions to the nation’s problems.
We’ve all heard it – every time Republicans introduce a bill, or even open their mouths – the Democrats stand up and declare that Republicans want to destroy the environment, starve little children and throw grandma out on the street. Their faithful allies in the mainstream media take those claims and proclaim them to the world as fact.
Now we have this sensationalized but completely manufactured Russian meddling scandal, that’s long on claims, but utterly devoid of credible evidence. Yet still it lives and breathes.
In the end, the average person on the street is left in a confused and often over-emotionalized state, unable to process political messages rationally. This has worked for the Democratic Party, but it’s also contributing to the gradual degradation of the basic integrity of the country.
It’s no longer about the actual merits of a piece of legislation, but how nice the sponsors are – or are not. And naturally, it’s the Democrats and the 93% of mainstream media journalists who decide where the line is drawn.
Is it any wonder that we now have a sitting president in the White House who takes to Twitter multiple times each day. Donald Trump may be a buffoon in so many ways, but he’s smart enough to recognize that he’s not going to get a fair hearing in the mainstream media. Hence, his reliance on the social media.
The whole thing is silly, but it’s what the political process has devolved into.
The Country’s Problems are Beyond Politics as Usual
While the two major political parties continue to squabble over less consequential topics, such as gender issues, establishing which party has dirtier hands, or pretending that the national debt ceiling actually matters, America in the 21st century is beset with major problems.
It’s easy to see why both politicians and the media want to avoid the real problems. Real problems require real solutions. and those are the kind of political platforms that come with serious risks. As well, the problems have gotten so large that neither the media nor the politicians have the remotest clue how to present them in neat, soundbite fashion.
Here are four Real Problems that America is not remotely prepared to deal with:
1. Public pension funding. At the state and local government level, pensions are underfunded by somewhere between $1.2 Trillion and $4.1 Trillion, depending on what rate of return is used to calculate the likely funding pool.
2. Healthcare/health insurance. The healthcare situation is fast turning into an unmitigated disaster, and there’s no clear consensus as to where it is, where it needs to go, and how we’ll get there. Worse, it looks as if all of the options are likely to be worse than what we have already.
3. Student loans. This a is debt fiasco that’s a crisis waiting to happen. The total amount of student loan indebtedness is estimated to be over $1.3 Trillion, with a combined delinquency and default rate of 11.2%. Young people are coming out of college burdened by debt levels to the point of being financially impaired, to pay for an education of increasingly questionable worth.
All this is happening at a time when the economy is widely considered to be healthy and strong – at least by the officialdom.
4. A permanent state of war with much of the world. Internationally, we have a foreign policy of permanent warfare on multiple fronts. With the Pentagon up to its elbows in conflict in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and who knows where else in the Middle East, we also have simmering and ongoing hotspots in Ukraine and the Baltics (Russia), sparing with China over the South China Sea, the threat/counter threat situation with Iran, and of course, North Korea.
Back on the heels of the 9-11 attacks in 2001, George W. Bush declared, ”You’re either with us or against us in the fight against terror”. In doing so he set the tone for American foreign policy that has been meticulously followed ever since: a state of permanent warfare.
Little consideration is given to the fact that these conflicts incur significant costs, produce no measurable benefits, and most certainly serve to increase the number of nations, tribes, and individuals who consider the USA to be a serious threat to their sovereignty and independence.
Unfortunately, each of these four Real Problems are considered untouchable. For that reason, they go on year after year, with no reasonable chance of a workable solution being employed.
At this point, we have every reason to believe that this will be the trend going forward.
The Citizenry No Longer Knows What They Want
In the face of a mounting tsunami of troubles, the mainstream media loves to chant that America’s political situation is “polarized”. I completely disagree. I don’t think it’s polarized at all. I think it’s better described as paralyzed.
Dictionary.com describes polarized as ”…to cause people to adopt extreme opposing positions”. While that’s one possible definition of America’s political situation in the 21st century, I disagree that it’s the dominant theme.
On each side of the political aisle, both Left and Right, there is the core of diehard partisans. But I suspect that represents no more than 10% to 20% of the population pulling for either side. I believe that the vast majority, somewhere between 60% and 80% of the citizenry, have far less entrenched political philosophies.
If I’m right about this, that means that our elections are being determined by how the voters in the vast middle feel on a given day. A swing of just a few percentage points toward either party can determine the outcome of an election.
Consider the results of the past five presidential elections. Four of those elections were practically 50-50 splits, the winner in each case having an advantage 4% or less of the popular vote. In fact, in two of those elections, the winner was determined by the electoral college, which upended the popular vote.
The one exception, and it wasn’t a big one, was Barack Obama defeating John McCain by a vote of 52.9% to 45.7% in 2008, which was right about at the middle of the Financial Meltdown. That was a swing of more than seven points.
But in addition to the economic issues that were weighing down the Republican Party, I’ve long felt that Obama’s victory was based largely on the fact that he looked more “presidential” than John McCain.
In a time of voter paralysis, how a candidate looks can easily swing an election. Look at the Kennedy – Nixon election in 1960 for more proof. No, we don’t want to think that we’re that shallow here in the good old US of A, but I think it’s beyond obvious, especially if you look at the media.
Consider the results of the last five presidential elections below:
US Presidential Elections 2000 - 2016
|Election Year||Democratic Candidate||Percentage of Popular Vote||Republican Candidate||Percentage of Popular Vote|
|Al Gore||George W. Bush|
|John Kerry||George W. Bush|
|Barack Obama||John McCain|
|Barack Obama||Mitt Romney|
|Hillary Clinton||Donald Trump|
(Source: The Roper Center)
Meanwhile, the current make up of the US Senate includes 52 Republicans, 46 Democrats, and two independents. However, since the two independents, Bernie Sanders (Vermont) and Angus King (Maine) both caucus with the Democratic Party, the real split in the Senate is a razor thin 52 – 48 majority in favor of the Republicans. This is another tight political situation supporting my theory of voter paralysis over the widely accepted notion of polarization.
Paralysis by confusion, not polarization, is the more likely reason for these all too frequent 50-50 political splits. If the voters weren’t paralyzed, we’d see something closer to the 60 – 40 splits indicative of a population wanting real change. The virtually deadlocked elections, by contrast, signal a citizenry who are afraid to lean one way or the other, probably out of legitimate fear of inestimable consequences.
Get Over It: We’re On Our Own – It’s Up to Us to Deal With the Problems
I think it’s pretty obvious that politics won’t solve our problems. But where do we go with that? It’s one thing to acknowledge that business-as-usual won’t solve our problems. But it’s another to decide what you’re going to do about it.
That means that it’s up to us. All indications are that the fiasco that politics have become in America point to more of the same. The problems have become so enormous that politicians would rather bicker over minor-league issues, than to take on substantive problems that will involve political risks.
As individuals, we need to recognize that the solutions have to come from us. In some cases, that will lead to unpleasant outcomes. But we increasingly live in a world where there are no easy options. The healthcare situation is one glaring example of that conundrum.
How can we minimize the impact of national problems on our own individual lives? That’s an uncomfortable question to even consider, but one that we can no longer ignore. Political paralysis means that we can expect no help from the people whom we would normally expect help from.
Do what you can to take control over your life as best you can in the following areas:
- Healthcare — Political inaction guarantees the situation will get worse. Buy the least expensive health insurance you can and set up a Health Savings Account (HSA) at your bank to cover rising co-payments and deductibles. Alternatively, get a part-time job with health insurance. And for goodness sake, take good care of your health.
- Jobs/careers — Ignore promises of job creation. The politicians don’t even know how to make that happen. Recognize that unemployment is no longer the main job issue – under-employment is the real problem. No one’s even talking about it. It’s become chronic and structural. Rest assured it’ll get worse in the next recession. Do what you can to upgrade your skills, to be employable by small businesses, and look to become self-employed. Multiple income streams are becoming the most reliable career direction. Look into adding gig work or a side business to your income mix.
- Retirement — Expect retirement to become less certain. But don’t fear it, embrace it. I don’t believe the various theories that Social Security will “go broke” but it increasingly won’t be enough. Plan a workable semi-retirement for yourself. Save and invest as much as you are able, since you won’t be able to rely on Social Security or even pensions to the degree that so many others have in the past.
- Attitude/outlook — Don’t waste time following the herd with their numerous invocations of ”THEY need to do something about (fill-in-the-blank).” When people put things off on the nameless, faceless “they”, they usually mean the government. As government becomes increasingly dysfunctional, that will prove to be an empty wish. It’s not about what “they” have to do, but what “I have to do”. At the same time, figure out how to create and live a compelling life, regardless of the creeping chaos that rises around us.
- Debt — The politicians may not think it’s important to balance the federal budget, but they face no immediate consequences if they don’t (which is why it will continue). Rest assured that you don’t have the same exemption. If you get in over your head, bad things are gonna happen. An uncertain future means that you should work intentionally to get out of debt, and to avoid going into debt in the future.
I realize that will be easier to continue living life as we always have, assuming that our leaders have everything under control. But as that assumption becomes increasingly hollow, there will be no alternative to getting our own houses in order. The worse the political situation becomes, the worse the national situation will be. We have no choice but to work it out on our own.
Do you agree that politics won’t solve our problems? Or do you believe that we’re going to have some sort of political epiphany, and the politicians are going to finally sober up?