We were reminded by Robert Samuelson in yesterday’s Washington Post that America has made amazing progress in the last half century.
Consider that in 1960:
- Men and Women held rigid gender roles.
- African-Americans were restricted by legal segregation in the South and informal segregation almost everywhere else.
- Homosexuality was virtually under the radar.
- There was little environmental regulation.
- Immigration was not an issue.
- Defense made up 52% of government spending.
Think about all the (mostly) positive changes which have taken place in the meantime:
- Women have taken paying jobs by the millions.
- Racial segregation has been outlawed.
- Gay rights have been established.
- Environmental regulation has exploded.
- Immigration, both legal and illegal, has increased.
- Social spending has soared.
- Defense is down to 16% of the federal budget in 2015.
Consider how our national politics is now stalemated:
- The political system favors extremes.
- Minorities live largely in big cities where they produce Democratic super-majorities.
- Rural areas produce Republican super-majorities.
- Incumbents are insulated from general election challenges which might pull them towards the center but are perpetually vulnerable to primary challenges from extremists who pull them towards the fringes.
- Ideological purity trumps pragmatism. In the internet and cable-news era, politicians are constantly reassuring their constituents that they haven’t sold out.
- The center sags and paralysis prevails.
Meanwhile serious national problems are getting much worse and not being addressed. Our public debt (on which we pay interest) is 74% of GDP, the highest since WWII. The U.S. economy is growing only slowly at the rate of 2.1% per year ever since the end of the Great Recession seven years ago. Neither presidential candidate has a credible plan to deal with these two most aggravating problems.
As a country we are in a huge mess. How do we break out of it? I wish I knew!