If you’ve watched cable news lately, you might believe that everything is horrible in American politics. Russia is trolling us for fun. College campuses seem to be turning into Constitution-free zones. The President’s tweets have been…interesting. On top of it all, many powerful men seem to have forgotten that lesson we learned as kids about keeping their hands to themselves.
Nevertheless, America is not dead. The sun has not set on our future. Even in the swampy world of politics, I see reasons for optimism:
1. We’re agreeing that we must reduce our reliance on incarceration as a go-to criminal justice solution for non-violent offenders.
It’s not a sign of the apocalypse, but entities supported by Charles Koch and George Soros are working together to reform policies that have resulted in mass incarceration. I’ve really enjoyed working on these reforms at the R Street Institute because they combat discriminatory practices, promote fiscal responsibility and align with the idea that even people who break the law deserve a future. Frankly, it’s hard not to be optimistic about such a politically diverse alliance coming together to solve these tough policy problems.
2. It’s far easier to communicate with people who don’t believe and think like us.
We have the technology to communicate with more people than we have at any time in history. More importantly, the platforms aren’t limited to the ultra wealthy. Yes, I know our social media feeds often look like a case study in confirmation bias, but stick with me here.
We are able to easily engage people who don’t believe and think like us. That’s a pretty cool reality. It also makes for unconventional alignments. Geography, political power and social status don’t necessarily limit building a coalition around any given public policy issue. People who hold minority political views in one area of the country aren’t nearly as isolated as they have been in previous generations. That’s a positive political development even as we’re learning to use the capacity productively.
3. We’re thinking more critically about our sources of information.
In the age of #fakenews, it’s easy to think that we’re adrift in a sea of misinformation soup. We aren’t.
Yes, Russia appears to have meddled in our electoral affairs, but we’re having a conversation about it. This can’t be the only time Russia has tried to mess with our politics, but it’s by far the most robust discussion about it I recall.
We’re also seeing media outlets being held publicly accountable for biased, incorrect or false content. That’s a positive development. Perhaps the greatest reason for optimism is the emergence of a generation, raised with technology, learning fact retention isn’t nearly as important as information discernment.
4. We agree that opiate abuse and addiction is a massive problem that merits a public policy response.
According to the Pew Research Center, 76% of Americans believe “prescription drug abuse is an extremely or very serious public health problem.” That puts the concern in the same ballpark as fears about cancer. Opiate addiction is no longer an issue discussed in hushed whispers. That’s an imperative development since “91 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.” We may not have all the answers for combatting this killer, but we’re having conversations about it. I’ll take that as a critical sign of progress.
5. Republicans are open to considering a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) fix.
In September of 2017, Senators James Lankford (R-OK), Thom Tillis (R-NC), and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) introduced the Solution for Undocumented Children through Careers Employment Education and Defending our nation (SUCCEED) Act. It’s an attempt to initiate a legislative discussion about responding to the population of immigrants who were brought into the country as children. Lankford’s leadership is particularly significant as he’s one of the most talented conservative senators in Washington. He’s not easily dismissed as a moderate–the kiss of death for Republicans on immigration issues. Trump has said he wants a deal on a DACA fix as well.
There’s room to believe this issue might be positively resolved, and hope that immigration reforms don’t have to be a partisan logjam.
6. As much strain as we’re putting on our civic institutions, they’re holding together.
It certainly isn’t pretty, but our republic is withstanding tremendous challenges. Whether we admit it or not, we’ve taken many of our civic institutions for granted. We can’t do that anymore.
Thee idea of the free press is challenged both by political pressure and the bias of media itself. Americans are questioning whether justice can really be blind in such a politicized world. We’re finding out how religious liberty interacts with free enterprise and discrimination.
We shouldn’t see these challenges as a repudiation of the institutions that safeguard our legacy of liberty; it’s a proving ground for the next generation of Americans. The institutions might appear fragile, but times like these affirm their value and resilience.
7. Americans believe they’re on their way to or have achieved the American Dream.
According to a 2017 Pew Research Center survey, 82% of Americans believe that their families are on the way to achieving or have achieved the American Dream.
Honestly, that surprised me.
Sure, it’s subjective, but it’s a BIG deal. Don’t tell me that everything is the worst when the American Dream is apparently alive and well. We have our work cut out for us, but rumors of our national demise are quite premature.
Don’t let the swirling negativity in politics send you running for the hills. If men and women of character don’t engage our political process and national dialogue, others certainly will. Even now, we have reasons to hope for a better future. Let’s not just hope. Let’s make it happen.