Back Where We Started

It has been more than three months since I posted anything on this site and almost eight since my last post about the state of American Politics; I hadn’t so much run out of things to say as I had run out of hope that anything I write might make a difference.

But as I sit in my office on a Tuesday morning looking for ways to pass the time until tonight I thought I would try to tie up a few loose ends on this blog. There might be more posts some day…maybe even tomorrow, but maybe this will be the last and I don’t want to leave this unsaid.

About six years ago I came across a report from the United Nations about an annual study and report they began doing in 1990 called the Human Development Index. The HDI looks at the relative performance of all the UN countries on three dimensions of human progress.

These are pretty straightforward things. If you were to create a game about the development of mankind and called it… Civilization, let’s say, these would be pretty closely related to the victory conditions: The ability of citizens to live a long and healthy life, to seek and gain knowledge and to have a decent standard of living (a roof over their heads and enough nourishing food to eat.) Mankind has been in search of these and trying to improve in these areas for thousands of years.

And yet, the report I had read suggested that the United States was not making much progress along these lines, at least in relation to the other countries on the planet. In 1990, when tracking the HDI began, the USA ranked second among the 189 UN nations studied…by the time I read the report in 2014 it had fallen to 9th and when the latest report came out last year the United States had dropped into a tie for 15th. These rankings were before COVID-19 but since the US has been hit harder by the Pandemic than any other country on this list the downward trend seems likely to continue when the next report comes out next year.

UN HDI Rankings 1990-Present

Two patterns emerge from looking at these rankings. The first is made even more obvious by the use of color, the USA has been dropping steadily for the last 30 years, across the terms of five Presidents. The other is more subtle; the rank of most other countries is relatively close to where it began which makes the precipitous decline in that of the United States even more puzzling. Why is the United States moving backward so rapidly down this list?

One thing should be pretty clear..this problem is larger than whoever sits in the White House and which party controls Congress. The five Presidents that have presided over this decline have come from across the political spectrum. Both the House and Senate have flipped multiple times between the two political parties over these 30 years and both parties have, briefly anyway, had control of the White House and both chambers. The only common denominator is political dysfunction.

I truly do not know what to write about this Presidential election. I have spent the better part of the last four years in this space trying to convince anyone that finds their way here that the 470 other races going on today….those for the House and Senate may be more consequential than Presidential Election. But our sitting President has certainly raised the stakes for me because his propensity for sowing the seeds of division seems to be coming at the worst possible time.

There is a lot of talk and bluster among politicians about “waves” at the polls today. Some folks want a “Blue Wave” that sweeps in Democrats, others hope for a “Red Wave” that does the same for the GOP. But I’m hoping for a Gray Wave. No, not oldsters, we have plenty of those, particularly at the top of the tickets. I want a wave of candidates and returning incumbents for the House and Senate that see more gray than black and white. “Winning” elections is something done by only the political parties themselves. The Democratic and Republican National Committees will win and lose races tonight, as will the candidates, of course. But the rest of us will just have to wait and see if we get what we’re paying for.

I haven’t been to all of them but I’ve traveled through the majority of our nation’s 435 Congressional Districts and they aren’t colored red or blue as you drive across the border. They are populated, mostly, by hard working good people that want similar things. I haven’t run across many that wouldn’t list some version of the three main outcomes in the Human Development Index near the top of the list of things they want for themselves and their descendants.

Yes, people have different ideas about how to get there but that’s what they are, ideas… no one more inherently valuable than the next until they are tried and measured. But way too many 2020 politicians have become fixated on resisting the other party’s ideas without offering any of their own. If I could wish for a silver lining to this decidedly crappy year it would be that when the 117th Congress convenes in January it might be with a renewed orientation toward measurable progress based on this absolute truth – Washington won’t work unless it works together.

I wish you and yours a contented election night and peaceful days ahead. Yes, the United States has many challenges but don’t buy the rhetoric: most of us want most of the same things and we can and will continue to use the power of our democratic system of government to try to achieve them…peacefully.