Confronting America’s deeper issues means looking at it through its fragility, rather than the superpower status it cultivates.
Moving America away from today’s incendiary disagreements over progressive versus conservative values remains a distant dream, despite post-mid-term election talk of cooperation between a Democratic House and a Republican Senate. Voters morally judge each other as patriots or traitors depending on their views on abortion, guns, sexuality, ethnicity and climate change.
President Trump’s vituperative leadership has magnified America’s ideological and racial fault lines. But it also disguises the fact that this world power shares many of the same challenges today as countries in the developing world when it comes to poverty, health, gender inequality, social injustice, urban degeneration and environmental degradation.
While Trump is a populist nationalist who relishes division and confrontation, individual American states have united to take on some of these challenges. For example, they have re-instituted laws that condemn military-style racist rallies and worked around his travel ban and broader restrictions on immigration, as well as his rejection of the Paris climate change commitments. But confronting the country’s deeper issues means looking at America through its fragility rather than its superpower status.
And none are more temperamentally qualified than the one hundred women who trained and educated themselves to run for office, flipped seats and helped the Democrats retake the House last month. However, their expertise in the tools of civil society may not count for much come January 2019, when they take their seats inside the Congressional shark tank. While courageously wielding their mom and pop’s kitchen knives of conviction, they risk being sliced and diced by the seasoned meat cleavers of the male political establishment.
Their success will not be because they are Muslim, Native American, trans, gay or African American, but because they deliver for their communities.
If they are to avoid this fate they need to keep their vision trained on the underlying problems that let Trump in, and not be distracted by his rhetoric, particularly when there is evidence that many Americans are comfortable with his conservative political agenda.
One way for them to succeed is to separate out America’s problems along the lines of the UN’s sustainable development goals, which apply to all UN members, including the US, and to strive to translate these goals into federal legislation.
This includes eradicating poverty, which is hampered in the United States by many of the same failings as in other fragile countries; growing inequality, weak governance, and the increasing impact of climate change, especially in rural areas.
Republicans performed worst in the mid-terms among those making under $30,000. Why? Because America’s poor are also experiencing hunger and social discrimination, and feel excluded from decision-makers and their decision-making processes. And this cohort is growing due to student debt of $1.5 trillion, household debt of $1.3 trillion, a still stagnant median wage, and the lack of affordable housing. The parallel proliferation of billionaires is beginning to make America resemble a Banana Republic, not a wealthy democracy.
America’s lack of universal health coverage is another source of fragility. Across the US, giving birth costs on average $10,000, while a Caesarian will set women back $45,000. According to a study in Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Texas has the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world. And America’s overall life expectancy is decreasing, driven in part by the opioid epidemic, which kills more than 115 Americans a day, and by a growing suicide rate fuelled by “despair” and a lack of emotional wellbeing, according to Steven Woolf, co-author of a BMJ journal report on the subject.
Pushing for a system of comprehensive healthcare should focus, for instance, on strengthening Medicare, expanding coverage of pre-existing medical conditions and lowering the price of medication.
Focusing on the need for clean water and sustainable agriculture across America is also essential when agricultural runoff, soil contamination, land mismanagement and lax regulation have created toxic water tables and undrinkable water in schools and rural areas.
And achieving greater gender equality is now a matter of urgency when America ranks 49th in the world, according to the World Economic Forum 2017 study on the subject. New legislation could tackle gender pay discrimination, online harassment, mandated parental leave and help balance a US productivity model that lacks occupational integration and is overly reliant on women’s uncompensated labour.
Today’s new intake of Democratic congresswomen must show that their efforts to serve their communities rise above their opponents’ anxieties about their progressiveness. Pushing for a system of comprehensive healthcare should focus, for instance, on strengthening Medicare, expanding coverage of pre-existing medical conditions and lowering the price of medication, rather than on gender re-assignment and reproductive rights. And raising the minimum wage will do more than Trump’s immigration controls to help dampen anti-immigrant complaints about stolen livelihoods.
Their success will not be because they are Muslim, Native American, trans, gay or African American, but because they deliver for their communities. They might not be able to control Conservative skepticism on climate change or anti-immigrant sentiment, but they can claim the policy high ground. Whenever Trump’s opponents find the discipline to beat him on policy, he is left scratching his head. In his own immortal words: “Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.”
These women, hopefully, do.