The title of this piece has two purposes. The first is to get
the reader’s attention in a very simple and direct way. The
second is a suggested direction in the midst of a tumultuous
and unpredicted presidential campaign cycle which is continually
setting off fireworks but showing little light.
The former needs no more explanation, and has presumably
succeeded for anyone still reading. The latter requires, I believe,
considerable discussion, particularly now at the stage of the 2016
presidential campaign when policy issues are being used as
grenades, and the debate is taking place in rhetorical fox holes.
I have previously described the feelings of many grass roots
voters, both on the left and the right (and even in the center),
as a mutiny against the captains of the political and media
establishments. Mutinies are powerful and emotional matters.
There is no room or time for calm discussion, for genuine
debates of complex public policy issues, and of course, civility.
As someone whose primary task is to offer lucid commentary,
I am nevertheless as likely as anyone to get caught up in the
ongoing energies of the back-and-forth emotion-provoking
accusations, insinuations, allegations and insults.
So I say “Stop!” for a moment to catch our collective breaths, and
to review just what is at stake in this year’s election.
We find ourselves in a curious moment in history. So much
technological change is happening so fast, and inevitably this is
causing massive economic changes. It goes without saying that
large economic changes provoke dramatic political changes.
The extremes of change are somewhat less dramatic in the
more “developed” nations, but the concurrent changes in
communications, particularly in the internet and its offspring
social media, have enabled persons all over the world to have at
least a visual sense of what is going on elsewhere. Combine all
this change with ideological and religious ambitions to share in
the material bounty now available, as well as in some cases the
desire to impose lifestyle and other restrictions locally and even
internationally, and you have the ingredients of new kinds of
social human relationships and relationships between “groups”
These phenomena haven occurred with unprecedented velocity
in recent human history, and particularly after the past “hundred
years” of world wars, decolonialization, and growing
democratization. Enormous pressures, conflicts, tensions and
The first true modern democratic republic, the United States of
America, has not only survived and spawned more global
democratic institutions, it became in the 20th century the most
powerful economic and military power on earth. Its popular
culture also was imitated worldwide. But it was not the largest
nation on earth. Two ancient societies, much older than the U.S.,
had survived as nation states, albeit not as representative
democracies. One of them, India, gained its independence after
World War II, and adopted democratic political forms. The other,
China, also gained sovereignty after World War II, but adopted a
totalitarian structure. Both India and China operated in Marxist
Stalemated economically, but each with huge populations, India
and China altered their economic course. India has now more
fully opted for democratic capitalism; China has created a form
of state capitalism. Each with populations of more than a billion
persons, they face immense challenges as they attempt to
accommodate the economic needs and ambitions of their peoples
who are becoming better educated, better housed, better fed
and understandably wanting to share the bounties being enjoyed
in of the rest of the world.
The Soviet Union was for 70 years a communist totalitarian
state. With a large population and the biggest land mass on earth,
its Marxist economic system failed, as did versions of it in
India and China. Following a peaceful internal revolution in 1990,
and the dissolution of some its national components, it remains
ambiguously a force in international politics.
After a millennium of violent conflicts, the nations of Europe have
made efforts at a cooperative economic union. While democratic
institutions exist now throughout the continent, many individual
nations adopted a social welfare economic structure that has not
held up in the post-war world, especially as many of the economic
union’s member states accumulated debt, and experienced
growing unemployment. Attempting to transform their economic
union into a political union has proved unsupportable.
In the 19th century there was a mass migration of Europeans to
North America. At the beginning of the 21st century, there is a
mass migration to Europe from north Africa and the Middle East.
The essential difference between these migrations was that North
America in the 1800s and early 1900s was at the beginning of its
great industrialization and was underpopulated. Europe today is
mostly fully industrialized and heavily populated. Immigrants
to North America in the 19th and 20th centuries integrated
themselves into its unique “melting pot” society of many cultures,
ethnicities and religions. Immigrants to Europe today are finding
it more difficult to blend into the existing social structures, and in
some cases, they say they don’t want to do so.
The simple fact in the United States today is that it cannot ignore,
or be immune from, what happens in the Far East, the Middle East
or Europe. Whether it be economic rivalry, communicable diseases,
military threats or terrorism, these forces have near instantaneous
impact on the U.S. We also face uncontrolled immigration from
Mexico, South and Central America.
I ask aloud whether we are going to be able to meet the challenges
these daunting circumstances present to us as a society and a
nation if we don’t begin to discuss in thoughtful conversations of
what we are going to do about them.
Among the issues that candidates in both parties are using as
grenades (instead of useful debate) are free trade, immigration,
social security reform, healthcare reform, secondary school
reform, and the environment on university campuses. Avoiding
serious discussion of theses issue only ensures they will get worse
in the time ahead.
I said “Stop!!” at the beginning of this piece. Now I say “Start.”
Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All right reserved.