How has America gotten into such trouble in every way conceivable? We ignore our astounding national debt, urban violence, race relations, women’s reproductive rights, free speech, gun rights, income inequality…the polarization is endless. What I’m trying to fathom is our general reluctance or inability to handle these complex problem. I have a clue: American exceptionalism. I find it one of the most dangerously misleading phrases in our culture Yes, our country does some things extremely well, better than the rest of the world, and Americans can be incredibly kind and generous. But our exceptionalism has become a broad brush for championing the good while ignoring the bad, a shield to hide behind when our country is criticized for its narcissism, indifference and ignorance. We rationalize that critical problems like climate change can’t be easily solved so why make the effort? "The technology will show up when it’s needed. My life is busy enough,” a friend of mine says.
We wallow in our exceptionalism, but we don’t back it up by tackling the tough stuff that requires sacrifice and stamina. Many of us don’t like “hard.” We definite “living in the moment” as something wonderful and In many ways the goal is admirable. Yet when I think about slogans with honest roots, I prefer “living for the future.” In the meantime, we are the world’s biggest back slappers. We love to congratulate ourselves, give out participant trophies, and exult in our pursuit of happiness. Like a lost tribe of dreamers, the path marked “most difficult” has little interest for us. I propose we observe a moratorium on the phrase “American exceptionalism.” If we’re going to embark on a positive future for all, how about “American wisdom.”
One of the burning questions about saving our democracy is how to jump start voter turnout, no matter whether in state, municipal or federal elections.
Again, I like talking politics to near-strangers I meet. Here are some of their answers to the question above. Nothing might seem terribly new, but that’s because we’ve yet to find the political will to even experiment with change.
1. Pay individuals, starting at age 18, to register to vote. Pay them something every time they vote. In a capitalist democracy, nothing motivates like money. The federal government has just given three trillion dollars to its citizens to get the economy off life support. Good use of taxpayer dollars, I think. So is paying citizens something to insure our democracy. The payment might be in cash, or perhaps a tax deduction or credit on your income tax.
2. Impose a tax “penalty” for failing to vote—use the stick as well as the carrot. We are not “a free country.” We are a country of incredible freedoms, and they cost a lot to maintain.
3. Raise House term limits from two years (which is mostly spent on frantic fund raising instead of making laws) to four years. Keep the Senate term at six.
4. Eliminate the electoral college. This puts a nail in the coffin of gerrymandering. The popular vote should determine winners.
5. Have federal guidelines (such as time off from work to vote) to expand voting opportunities and minimize voter suppression.
6. Instead of going to a polling station, encourage mail-in ballots, allotting a full month for voters to comply, and have strong oversight of the counting process. Consider making mail-in voting mandatory.
7. Drastically limit the amount of political donations that individuals, corporations, and PAC's can make.
8. Maintain and expand media coverage of every election cycle. Shine a bright light in dark corners without being intimidated or censored.
9. Make civics class mandatory in high school.
Any of the above requires a major shake up in the status quo, arousing the ire of, well, the status quo, which has the most to lose. It takes courage to fight another civil war, especially using brains and good-will instead of ideologies. Does medicine, science, the arts, or fashion ever remain the same, let alone for 250 years? The Constitution’s best chance of survival and effectiveness is not to stay the same, either.
Building a character arc should be done over the span of the novel. Just like it’s a writing sin to have an information plot dump in the first chapter of your book, likewise your characters shouldn’t reveal themselves right away. One aspect at a time—brought out by action rather than exposition—keeps the reader engaged.
On the eve of your inauguration to the highest office in the land, I wanted to pass along the thoughts of someone you’ll likely never know or meet. I don’t mean to be a scolding parent. I’m just Joe Citizen, living in a great country.
If you want me to like you, I hope you can start by being more civil. Be respectful of people whose politics you don’t agree with or whose words have hurt you. Show that open mindedness is preferable to reflex partisanship. Erase “loser,” “garbage” and other name-calling from your vocabulary. Think of all of us Joe Citizens as your extended family. We don’t expect to be invited to Thanksgiving or Christmas at the White House, but look us in the eye and tell us the truth whenever possible.
If you want me to respect you, study and read the appropriate material before you speak on any serious subject. Shooting from the hip is for people who don’t know the importance of consequences. Refrain from thinking of world leaders as a battle of the superheroes or clash of the titans, but if you must, know that winning is not a zero-sum game. Don’t keep secrets that you wouldn’t abide in others. Refrain from rumors. To paraphrase a song of your generation and mine, love and tolerance are a temple, love and tolerance are the highest thing.
If you want me to have faith in your presidency, never do anything that I’d be ashamed of if I did it, because sooner or later the word gets out. Everything you’ve done in the past, I forgive you. Everything you do in the future, our lives depend on it. So do our children’s and grandchildren’s. Trust the judgment and wisdom of people around you who do their jobs well. That’s about it.
Michael R. French
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Michael R. French
Michael French is a graduate of Stanford University and Northwestern University. He is a businessman and author who divides his time between Santa Barbara, California, and Santa Fe, New Mexico.