Lately, I’m not exactly a ray of sunshine. With each grim milestone reached, it feels as if we’ve tumbled to political rock bottom only to find a new trap door leading further below. After years spent in a perpetual state of crisis, I find myself wondering if we can ever return to normal — and what is normal in a post-President Trump era, anyway?
It’s easy to know what we don’t want: 3 a.m. thumb rants, name-calling and tax scandals to name a few. But it’s a low bar to aim for “not illegal” and “not childlike” in crawling out of this political chasm.
Certainly, a political shift from Trump will feel like having binged-watched multiple seasons of “The Walking Dead” only to change the channel to a Lifetime Christmas movie — uncomfortably unfamiliar. Our brains have literally become rewired to a heightened sense of fear, anxiety and intensity, as if we are a nation of individuals in trauma. In many ways, we are.
Yet to imply removing Trump would somehow restore America is a fallacy, even if The Lincoln Project might suggest otherwise. Our current predicament extends long prior to Trump taking office, even if he has hastened our demise. In this regard, unless there are significant changes to both political parties and structure moving forward, it will likely continue long after his exit, whether sooner or later.
Rediscovering a political normal will first require accepting the United States had already been in decline for decades. In almost every area of major policy, America hasn’t been a global leader for years. Today, America ranks dead last in the G-7 for worker’s rights, the second-worst for raising a family and the worst nation for health care in the developed world. We’ve also seen record drops in scientific funding and marked decline on social issues, including ranking as one of the worst nations in the world for sexual violence and harassment against women — to name a few. Suffice it to say, this can’t be what we aim for.
In Colorado, we’ve fared slightly better according to a 2019 story in U.S. News & World Report. Ranked as the 10th state overall, we earned top honors for our economy of the 50 states. Yet simultaneously we lagged in four out of eight categories, landing in the bottom half of states on environment, fiscal stability, opportunity and criminal justice. While our average may hover at the 20th percentile, we bombed with a dismal 44th in air and water quality, and 43rd for affordability and equality, extending our margins well into the lower 20%. Anytime you’re in the bottom of the bottom, it’s hardly a normal to strive for, either.
Achieving recovery must therefore start by increasing America’s goals by an order of magnitude. Mild to moderate improvements would still leave us underperforming, particularly as other nations will continue to progress while we catch up. This means that by one avenue or another we must achieve the following, and soon: Universal health care, paid family leave, reduced economic gaps and reduction in poverty, increased anti-discrimination policies, increased scientific funding, improved infrastructure, fewer gun-related deaths, cleaner air and water, reduced carbon footprint, campaign finance reform and so much more.
If you balked at any of the above, you have a skewed sense of partisanship. None are partisan goals. They aren’t even progressive — progressive is high-speed trans-continental hyperloops, carbon-negative sustainable development, vertical farming and personalized medicine. That’s an America I dream of but in reality may never see. Meanwhile, the above items are a bare necessity for any 21st century society that will keep America a reasonable, but not top, contender internationally.
With or without Trump, we’d already experienced a natural skewing of polarity as both parties have dallied with anti-science rhetoric, although certainly this has become more prevalent on the far right. Moving forward, science and data must be the basis of any debate if we’re to have any chance of recovery. Any party which denies facts is a direct threat to our democracy and ability to reclaim international standings.
Short of not recovering at all, the primary risk is to set our sights too low. If we aim to pick up where we left off, we will perpetuate the underlying issues that allowed us to get here in the first place. America can’t afford to fall any further behind.
There is one thing that we can and should keep from the Trump era, however — voter engagement. Whether volunteering, donating to candidates or voting early, the last four years have reminded us all of the importance in citizen participation.
That’s a win for everyone.