We are all faced with significant challenges, individually and collectively. How we decide to address these issues may be as important as what actions we decide to take.
These challenges include, but are not limited to, our role internationally, the health of our people, economic resiliency, breaking barriers to upward mobility, creating a responsible climate policy and more.
We can continue with policies that place an onus on some and provide a windfall for others. Alternatively, would prize individual liberty and freedom while recognizing that we have some responsibility toward each other.
Frankly, many policies have been designed to avoid accountability and responsibility. They promise what could be described as a “chocolate sundae weight loss plan.”
Since the 1990s, the United States has vastly increased its military operations across the globe. It put men and women into harm’s way, resulting in death, wounds seen and unseen, and families stressed or broken.
At the time, policymakers decided not to offset the cost of the conflicts, or create some small sense of shared sacrifice. Instead, they selected a segment of society to reap a bonanza through tax cuts while the financial burden was deferred for future generations to pay.
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In that same timeframe, life expectancy in America fell significantly behind European countries. According to a recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, there is a fairly small difference in life span for those living in the poorest and richest communities within certain European countries. Meanwhile, the gap for people living in similar American communities is significantly larger.
It is hardly surprising that Americans living in high poverty areas have a lower life span than in Europe. However, even Americans living in the richest five percent of counties are more likely to die at an earlier age than similar communities in Europe. This health impacts all Americans, and results in lower economic productivity for the nation.
The effects of recent natural disasters have hit a wide spectrum of American society. Wildfires, floods, and hurricanes have not discriminated between “red” states and “blue” states.
These and other challenges are real. They deserve real discussion.
That cannot happen when members of Congress approach their job with a focus on being performative trolls rather than as legislators or constituent servants. As former president George W Bush noted recently, “so much of our politics has become a naked appeal to anger, fear and resentment.”
South Dakota Congressman Dusty Johnson was recently quoted saying of his colleagues, "I think most members are good people who want to find common ground but, man alive, the loudest ones -- they get a disproportionate amount of the attention.” Getting attention generates money and notoriety, but does it really advance the country?
Do people in positions of leadership accept accountability or responsibility? Do ordinary individuals have any responsibility to anyone beyond themselves?
In her book on the fall of the Athenian empire, Edith Hamilton wrote, “Athens had reached a point of rejecting independence, and the freedom she now wanted was freedom from responsibility. . . . Responsibility was the price every man must pay for freedom.”
We can continue to approach these issues with a mindset of absolute individual liberty. That will result in a clash where one person’s liberty intrudes on someone else’s. However, it will be on a much larger scale, with a more significant impact on our society.
The pandemic has proven that we are more interconnected than is apparently comfortable for some. It is time to recognize that our actions and inactions affect others. We may need to treat others as we would wish to be treated. In doing so, we may find improved opportunities for all of us.
Next week: Charese Yanney
A Sioux City resident, Steve Warnstadt is government affairs coordinator for Western Iowa Tech Community College. He is a former Democratic state senator and retired Army National Guard brigadier general. He and his wife, Mary, are the parents of one son and one daughter.