As the turbulent year 2016 winds down, I’ve bookended the holidays with two pieces about caring. The first, The Age of “Who Cares?”, appeared in US News & World Report two weeks ago and was featured in my last update. The following day, I received an invitation from a Canadian talk show, to discuss it.
You can listen to the whole interview on your computer or smart phone, but here are some highlights:
“Walls are not going to keep the world’s problems out of the United States because the problems are bigger than that and we live in a world that’s largely interconnected now. We don’t have the luxury of not caring about what goes in the Middle East – or any other country, for that matter.”
“At the moment, the focus has clearly shifted to self-centeredness more than a larger vision. And I think that can be destructive to our lives individually and to the society as a whole.”
“I think everybody involved on both sides of this election have paid inadequate due to the needs and problems of other people in this country. It’s not just Aleppo, it’s not just Trump people, it’s not just this election – we’re living at a time of great, great change, and I think it’s leading a lot of people to feel insecure on all sides, and to focus on themselves as a result. And I think that’s understandable. But it’s not good.”
In my new piece for Christmas in US News, So Much You Can Do, I tried to suggest what some responses to these challenges. Please click the link to read the full piece (my editors keep track of that sort of thing!), but here’s the gist:
Instead of crying by the riverbank at the dismantlement of Obamacare, the block-granting of Medicaid, and the defenestration of Social Security and Medicare, or spending the next four years idly proposing a return to similar New Deal and Great Society programs in some imagined future, we can start using [new] technologies to build virtual communities – the real future – that do choose to cross-subsidize health care, secure retirements and educational opportunity for those who need them, and to reap the benefits.
But there are countless other ways on an individual basis to stand against the incoming tide. There are children who need mentoring – and adults who do, too. There are immigrants who need welcoming, and values like free speech that need exercising. There are small acts anyone can undertake every day that make a small difference, but if repeated by the rest of us would make a large difference – in, say, wasting less energy or consuming less needless packaging or paying slightly more to support better working conditions. You can find one way each day to check your self-interest and act with kindness toward another. You could easily fill your day with things that will make a difference in ways that, without you, will go in the opposite direction under the Trump Administration.
You can decry that there’s so little you can do. Or, as you gather with loved ones over this holiday period, and pass by countless strangers in the streets, you can recognize that, in fact, there’s so much more you can do than there is possibly time for.
I’m looking forward to putting a dent in that in 2017. I’ve got in the works:
Our new-and-improved education consulting practice. We recently completed two studies in Alaska, are wrapping up another in Texas, and my whitepaper on school innovations in Massachusetts will be published in the new year.
A new social venture to accomplish some of what’s discussed above. Alumni of the University of Chicago’s business school have volunteered to help work out the financing and technology details, so I hope to “go live” with this venture in late 2017.
Expanded adventures in academia – including a series of forums and podcasts from the University of Chicago on “The Future of …,” flowing from my course there, “The Future of Government”; a new course this winter at Union Theological Seminary in New York on the deeper drivers of right and wrong –from biology to psychology to game theory – and what we can do about them; and a new annual conference tying together all the foregoing at Brown University, to be announced early in the year.
I’ll be giving you details in further updates in the coming weeks. But until then, have a Happy 2017, filled with caring!
Happy holidays from our family to yours.
My piece in US News & World Report last week, The Age of “Who Cares?”, attracted the attention of a Canadian talk show, Charles Adler Tonight, which invited me on to discuss the article. In the course of a 15-minute interview, I talked with host Charles Adler about Syria, Donald Trump, racial animosity, international responsibility, and how they’re all interrelated:
“We’re quite fortunate in the US, and we’re quite fortunate in most of the western world, compared to huge swaths of humanity today. It’s just, things aren’t quite as good in a lot of ways as most of us would like it to be, and they’re certainly nowhere near as good for a large segment of the population in this country as they could be and should. I think they rightly feel that a lot of people don’t care about their problems, and it’s hard to get exercised about other people’s problems in that kind of environment.”
You can listen to the whole interview on your computer or smart phone.
Every year around the holidays, I try to write a piece or two summing up where our country and the world stand. Often, these pieces have tackled moral issues, as befits the season.
In this week’s US News piece, “The Age of ‘Who Cares?’”, I address my concern that people are caring less about anyone or anything but themselves:
It’s ironic that, as we come upon the holiday season, a time at which traditionally we are thankful for what’s been given to us, contemplative about how we might give to others, and reflective upon how we might do even better in the coming year, people across America, if not everywhere, seem increasingly focused only on what’s in it for themselves.
… [W]e’re not simply in the midst of a revolt against some form of social organization larger than, or transcending, the nation-state: We’re witnessing a rejection of anything larger than, or transcending, the self…. Thus, we sit in comfort as a nation currently enjoying sole-superpower status, in the midst of one of the longest (if admittedly unspectacular) economic expansions on record, and bemoan our poor lot while ignoring the massacre of innocent Syrians even as we bar our doors to them. This Christmas, there’s no room at the inn.
… But a world where no-one cares about anything other than themselves is one that few survive. The emerging Trump Administration appears to be the perfect embodiment of this zeitgeist. Even more so than its overwhelmingly elite, billionaire, insider, traditional Republican, white, male cast, its unifying feature appears to be – as James Hohmann observes in today’s Washington Post Daily 202 – its widespread devotion to the philosophy of Ayn Rand: “The fact that all of these men … are such fans of works that celebrate individuals who consistently put themselves before others is therefore deeply revealing. They will now run our government”.
But who cares?
Last week, in “Trump’s America Is Already Selling,” I wrote about President-elect Donald Trump’s business interests as representative of what I’ve long argued is the direction the world’s headed:
Welcome to the United States of Trump: Real estate and branding. Run for profit, just like a business. Global in scope, and borders are no constraint. Income redistribution, human investment, job creation? Not so much. In short, this is exactly the direction the world was headed before; the result will be to speed it up, not reverse it.
Most people find that observation as depressing as this week’s column on rising selfishness. I don’t – I think this presents opportunities for new approaches:
Over the next decade or so, governments will increasingly compete with each other to market their services and brand themselves. It’s only natural that private companies will begin offering similar services, as well – in fact, in areas from national security to consular services to currency to dispute resolution to education and beyond, they already do. When governments like Trump’s start slashing their involvement in public protection, health, human services and social coordination (what we call regulation when the government does it), and countless other public goods, private and other new kinds of entities will start figuring out ways to offer such things themselves.
That’s, in fact, what I plan to spend a good part of 2017 working on.
Finally, the world this week lost two outstanding public servants I had the honor and privilege to work with and call “friend”: Charlie Reed was chief of staff to Florida Governor Bob Graham, where I met him in my first job after college, writing Graham’s speeches; Charlie went on to become one of the country’s top higher-ed leaders, serving as chancellor of both the Florida and California state university systems. John Glenn, of course, was both the first American to orbit the earth and oldest person in space, as well as a US Senator and presidential candidate. I had the honor of writing speeches for him in the latter two capacities. In my view, John’s greatest accomplishment of all was to author and push through the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act: We can thank him for the fact that, imperfect as it is, the world’s still here.