The United States is faced with a myriad of complex and serious problems that require plans, commitments and actions that stretch across decades. For instance, climate change is a long-term crisis that affects many facets of American life, including the livability of our coastal cities, health care, interruptions of the business cycle, and destruction of natural environments. Implementing changes to counter it will require constant innovations and updates.
Another issue, developing a health system that serves all Americans with both high quality and affordable care, is fraught with political, medical and cost implications that are compounded by changing demographics and regional differences. Just building the social and political constituency for change will be a major undertaking.
Fixing and improving a decaying infrastructure is a decades-long project that involves difficult architectural, technical, political and funding decisions across the nation’s cities and her geographically diverse landscapes. And once a plan is put in place and acted upon it will require constant supervision and renewing, Other urgent issues include the growing crisis of inequality; and, building an education system that serves the students and the employment realities of this century rather than tinkering with a preexisting model from the 1900s. None of these issues can be reduced to the 90-second answers allowed in a political primary debate. All require a long-term investment of time, interest, resources, evaluations and repair.
But, whenever any of these and other issues reach a crisis stage in the political arena our elected leaders offer platitudes that appeal to many differing and conflicting constituencies. These political bromides are designed to temporarily placate voters and interest groups by leading them to believe that something substantive is happening. What we need instead is action that engages the long and difficult process of laying out specific plans that will probably span years rather than months.
We Americans, however, lean toward short rather than long-term planning horizons across the spectrum from businesses to politics. Take a look at these examples:
- For a US business: generally, a long-term plan looks out three to five years, but in practice it is often reduced to a focus on quarterly reports.
- For a US Congress person: the planning perspective is the time left until the next election. That could be six years for a newly-elected senator, and two years for a newly-elected member of the House of Representatives. In both cases planning time frames decrease year by year, down to one in the last year of a term. My experience is that local, state and federal lawmakers do not usually focus on anything that is further out than their next election. This makes it difficult for America to deal with undertakings that defy simple, short-term solutions.
- The Chinese: Consider that the Chinese, our chief international competitors, have planning horizons between fifty and 100 years. Masayoshi Son, founder and CEO of Softbank, said that his long-term vision spans 300 years. And, consider that Iroquois Nation adheres to the principle that a decision made today should measure the effects seven generations into the future.
If this country is going to serve our diverse population (and if we hope to rebound and reassume a global leadership role) we need to honestly address the problems we face. And then address the complexity, the time and the resources required for dealing with them.
Damned if You Do and Deported if You Don’t
A new Trump administration immigrant-bashing rule that seeks to further limit legal immigration takes effect in March, and it is a classic “Catch-22”. Catherine Rampell wrote in the Washington Post that the new rule is “supposedly designed to make sure any immigrants let in are self-sufficient and not a drain on government resources.” But, she points out, that it is based on “a series of flawed premises, and an even more flawed process…. immigrants already pay more in taxes than they receive in federal benefits (and) they use fewer benefits than their native-born counterparts.”
With regard to process, the rule gives immigration officials the authority to deny green cards if in their judgement the applicants “might use government benefits at any time in the future.” The Catch-22: Applying for a green card is one of the factors that can be considered as “using a government benefit.”
“I Used to Write Novels. Then Trump Rendered Fiction Redundant”
The above words are the headline of a Richard North Patterson March 2019 article in The Atlantic. Patterson, a novelist who has become a political commentator, wrote that “Trump’s self-absorption is total…His inability to accurately perceive external reality is profound. Because this renders our president deeply antisocial and anti-historical his world view begins and ends with Trump. What he has done is turn American politics into this metafiction in which he is the star…The connection between this man and reality is coincidental.” Are we really going to keep him on the stage for another four years? Or, are we going to send him back to his unreality TV career?