On Earth, Good Will to All (?)

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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.

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