January 19, 2021

Where Do We Go From Here

Guest Opinion
By Tom Gutowski | Jan. 2, 2021

Joe Biden is right to call for unity and healing. But how is that to be accomplished? Just returning to “normal” won’t do it. We’ll all be happier when we have a president who behaves like an adult, but that isn’t sufficient. After all, what used to pass for normal is what produced the deep division we have now.

A willingness to compromise is important and even necessary, but by itself, that’s also of limited effectiveness. For starters, there can be no compromise on what constitutes reality. COVID-19 and global warming are real; not hoaxes. We can debate what to do about them, but not whether they exist.

And there’s no evidence of significant fraud in November’s election. Those still claiming otherwise are either misinformed, lying for political purposes, or flat-out delusional. More than 50 election-related suits filed by Trump and the GOP have been withdrawn or tossed out of court. Thousands of Republican and Democratic election officials and poll workers across the country have delivered a clean election. Biden and Harris won. It’s over.

Nor can we compromise on matters of basic decency. We cannot tolerate a system that allows people to die because they can’t afford medical care. It’s wrong to systematically separate infants and toddlers from their parents. QAnon is rubbish and must be called out as such. We cannot sit idly by while rogue cops use grossly excessive force, unnecessarily harming and even killing people — especially, but not exclusively, people of color. And it’s wrong that millions of Americans working full time don’t earn enough to pay for basic food, clothing, and shelter. 

And compromise requires cooperation. If the GOP retains control of the Senate (the outcome of the Georgia special elections is unknown as I write this), Mitch McConnell will be able to continue blocking any legislation he doesn’t like. In the House of Representatives, the Problem Solvers Caucus — a 50-member bipartisan group consisting of an equal number of Democrats and Republicans — offers some hope.

The elimination or reduction of gerrymandering would help, too. Representatives from gerrymandered districts have little reason to do anything other than play to their base, which tends to turn politics into partisan theater. But Republican victories in state legislative races make it unlikely that we’ll see much of an improvement in this area.

What, then, will it take to heal America? In order for the healing to begin, two major issues must be addressed: restoration of ethics in government and the pursuit of policies that improve the lives of working families.

The next four years must include no insider trading, egregious conflicts of interest, violations of the Hatch Act or the Emoluments Clause, or sexual impropriety. If any hint of such a scandal arises in the executive branch, Biden must deal with it openly, honestly, and quickly. If one were to arise in Congress, it should be similarly dealt with, though frankly, I’m not sanguine. The independence of the Department of Justice must be protected so that no future president can choose who to prosecute, or treat the department like it’s his private law firm. It should be made impossible for a president to fire an Inspector General without cause. And — though this may require a change to the Constitution — the pardon power should be either abolished or severely restricted.

There must also be no “big lies.” Think Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, Iran Contra, WMDs, Trump’s claim that he won a massive victory in November, etc. The problem with this rule, of course, is that in politics, one party often claims folks in the other party have done something truly awful and are lying to conceal it. If no scandal exists, it seems one must be invented for political purposes.

The best we can hope for is that the Biden administration will resist letting the inevitable spin turn into outright dishonesty, and that that the press will hold government officials and politicians accountable, both for actual misdeeds — and for false allegations of such. It would also help to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine, so we’d all get some semblance of balanced information no matter what TV channel we watch or what radio station we listen to.

Regarding policy, my wish list includes more COVID relief targeted to those who desperately need it, an infrastructure bill, reduced drug prices, improved access to healthcare, better school funding, a higher minimum wage, a stronger social safety net, and in rural areas, better support for family farming, greater access to broadband, and support for critical care hospitals. And I’d like to see these things paid for without raising taxes on the middle class.

Instead, Congress should raise the marginal tax rate for high earners, raise the effective corporate tax rate so companies like Amazon can’t get away with paying zero tax, reduce corporate welfare, and squeeze some of the waste and excess out of the Pentagon’s budget. In fact, we need way more efficiency and accountability in government spending across the board.

Details aside, if the Biden administration vigorously addresses these kinds of things, then what political consultants call “messaging” should consist of merely explaining how these policies are in tune with basic shared values like honesty, fairness, decency, and equality of opportunity. Instead of competing ideological manifestos, we need a new unifying narrative about an ongoing tangible effort by a trustworthy government to improve the lot of all Americans.

Tom Gutowski earned degrees in economics and history before entering the insurance industry, from which he retired a few years ago.

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