The other day I wrote a post about being cynical in my middle age, positing that perhaps it was because of the polarization we’re feeling in politics and the sense that things aren’t working as they should. I just want things to be fixed.
I received a thoughtful comment from a reader that indicated that people on both sides of the political spectrum believe they have the answers to fix what’s going wrong in America. They both think they’re right and they want a chance to prove it.
I’ve been mulling this idea over and here’s the conclusion I’ve come to (other than the idea that there are more than two sides to most political debates, even though we only seem to hear about the two opposite extremes): In fixing what is wrong with our country, it isn’t about who’s right, it’s about what works.
How do we know what works? We have both history and the example of other countries to show us.
A few examples, not necessarily from the political realm, to illustrate my point:
1) When it comes to parenting, adopting an authoritarian attitude might feel like the right thing to do from the perspective of the parents. The parents set the rules and the kids obey. That is that. Until, of course, the kids don’t obey and the parents have a meltdown and mete out a harsh punishment, because that will get the kids to obey. What happens to kids in this situation is one of two extremes. Either a kid will rebel against the authoritarian parent or will become so fearful that s/he won’t be able to move forward without orders from similar authoritarian personalities. Certainly the authoritarian parent feels “right” in this situation, even if there are indications from the child that this is the wrong course. If parents are attempting to raise children to be adults who can think for themselves, authoritarian parenting doesn’t work. (You can translate this parenting attitude to dictatorships at the level of countries, a condition most of us probably wouldn’t want to live with.)
Lest you think I’m advocating for neglectful parenting, a total “Live and let live” attitude, I’m not. That doesn’t work either. A middle road in parenting, giving kids love, support, and information, along with freedom to think for themselves is what makes for more successful adults.
2) Abstinence-only education, which is quite the rage in some states and allows adults to feel they’re doing their moral duty in telling teens never to have sex, ever, and then giving them no information on sex, seems on the surface to be the right thing to do. Surely, if kids don’t know about sex, they won’t want to do it. However, studies have shown that abstinence-only sex education doesn’t work to prevent teen pregnancy or delay sexual activity. It certainly hasn’t worked in preventing an outbreak of chlamydia in a Texas high school. What does work to prevent teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases is providing young people with information on sex and contraceptives.
3) The massive gulf between the rich and the poor that we are currently experiencing in America feels “right” to the wealthy, who have gotten control of the government via lobbyists and favorable Supreme Court rulings (ahem, Citizens United). We’ve experienced this gulf before, although most of us probably don’t remember the effects of it. Stock market crash followed by the Great Depression, anyone? Allowing the wealthy to amass the majority of the nation’s wealth doesn’t work in the long run. While there are those who would argue that raising taxes on the wealthy is absolutely evil, after World War II, America experienced a long period of economic growth, part of which can be attributed to the high tax rate on the wealthy. (See point #2 at this PBS link.)
Of course, those who are opposed to raising taxes on the wealthy tend to also be opposed to socialistic programs that assist the least fortunate among us. They feel “right” in telling the poor and downtrodden to “pull themselves up by the bootstraps.” Here is where we need to look at the examples given by Scandinavian countries, which tend to score high on happiness and the welfare of their citizens. This humorously titled article referencing presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ socialistic tendencies shows a number of measures comparing the United States to Scandinavian countries: 7 Charts Show the Socialist Hellscape America Would Be Under Bernie Sanders. Scandinavian countries show us what works in supporting a country’s citizens, unless we don’t care about the happiness and welfare of American citizens, in which case what works is exactly what we’re doing.
If we carry on as we have been, doing what doesn’t work for the majority of us, at least we can be satisfied that someone feels right.