How Do We Fix It? When Did It Become Cool To Be So Angry?

image

Why are so many of us so damn angry?

Signs of fury are everywhere.  The national mood has darkened and it’s doing nothing to improve our democracy.

From chaotic scenes last weekend in Las Vegas when Bernie Sanders’ supporters threw a hissy fit at the Nevada’s Democratic Convention, to Donald Trump’s string of outrageous insults, it seems perfectly acceptable to claim that those who we disagree with are evil.

Yet these eruptions come at a time of modest improvement in many aspects of American life.  President Obama has been a disappointment, even to many supporters,  but his approval rating  – 51% says Gallup – is pretty decent for a President close to the end of his second term.

The jobs and housing markets are far from great, but they’re in much better shape today than when Obama first took office after the worst financial crisis in nearly 80 years.

The Affordable Care Act, while flawed, has not been the utter disaster claimed by many critics. Many more people are signing up and the U.S. uninsured rate is at a record low.

The “flood” of Mexicans surging across our southern border is a myth.  Since 2009, more Mexicans left the U.S. than entered the country.

Terrorism is always a threat, but the worst attack on U.S. soil happened nearly 15 years ago.

And he many of us are gripped by a deep sense of malaise and insecurity.  More than 7 in 10 Americans are dissatisfied with the way things are going in this country.  Cultural divisions, income inequality and a decline in living standards for non-college educated Americans threaten to pull is further apart.

All are reasons why Trump and Sanders have attracted huge crowds and surprising levels of support. But their policy prescriptions are simplistic.  We have very little idea of what they would do, if elected.

Who would pay for Sanders’s sweeping pledges of free health care and college education? How would Trump deal with China, The Middle East, immigration, job creation or the details of tax policy?

After his recent meeting with Trump, House Speaker Paul Ryan said, “Going forward, we’re going to go a little deeper in the policy weeds.” Too bad that hasn’t happened already.

Perhaps, Yuval Levin is right.  In his new book, “The Fractured Republic,” he argues that our politics have been paralyzed by nostalgia for the 1950’s and 60’s.  Liberals hanker for a time of greater income equality, before “the rise of the rest” meant that our workers had to compete in the resurgent global marketplace.  The right is nostalgic for cultural cohesion and  “traditional values”.

But those days of post-World War 2 U.S. dominance will not return. Our politics must address the technological and global challenges of today, instead of wallowing in the past.  We need to move beyond the primal screams of anger and work together, across party lines for a better future.

How Do We Fix It: Our Neighbors Just Across The Border

  
With audio/visual media class at UTEP.

El Paso:

Sometimes we learn a lot more than we expect to from the kids that we’re supposed to be teaching.

And so it was during my visit to Kate Gannon’s audio/ visual production class at UTEP – The University of Texas, El Paso.
I was asked to speak to the young students about my career in journalism, radio and podcasting. But during our 90 minutes together, I’m pretty sure these smart, switched-on students gave me something of much greater value than I was able to share with them.

The majority of the undergrads at UTEP are Mexican-Americans. Many come from poor families and struggle to keep up with tuition. But thanks to this school and its visionary President, Diana Natalicio (named to the TIME list of the world’s 100 most influential people), they’re on the up escalator.

That’s true of this class. Some come from the city of Juarez, which shares the same crowded valley as El Paso – just across the Mexican border. 

Their stories of what they must do to get to campus are moving. One young woman told me about her friend from Juarez, who wakes up at 5 a.m. each day, rides three buses and makes a time-consuming trip across the border to make a 10 a.m. class. 

   The crowded border border between El Paso and Juarez.

Armed with the right documents, you can walk across the bridge from Juarez. But going to a job, a University class or visiting a family member isn’t nearly as easy as it once was. And if Donald Trump gets his way, it could get much more difficult.

Another young Mexican in Ms. Gannon’s class burns with irritation over how Jaurez is portrayed by the media. After graduating, she wants to do something to change perceptions of her home town. 

“It’s nothing like what they say,” she says, speaking of Juarez’s stark reputation for murderous drug gang violence. Another student tells the story of a young Italian man who fell in love with a woman from Juarez and moved there. 

“He says he feels safer in Juarez than he did in Italy.”

Perhaps the crime statistics tell a different story. And there’s no doubt that the gangs are still a malevolent force in Jaurez and many other parts of Mexico.  

But a city or a country is more than numbers or abstract concepts. It is the sum of its people, its families, workers, grandparents and students. The vast majority of Mexicans shares the same hopes for a better tomorrow as we do. Dreams don’t stop at the border.

For far too long, Mexicans have been considered “the other.” The U.S. immigration debate needs to be reframed. As with Canadians, Mexicans are our neighbors. We are all North Americans together.

In this bilingual city, the people on the other side of the valley are not “them.” They are “us”. More than three-quarters of the residents in El Paso are of Mexican descent. This region has the largest bilingual-binational work force in the Western Hemisphere. 

None of this means the border should be forgotten or that U.S. immigration law can be flouted. Those who are here illegally should face deportation or other penalties.

But both countries need to have an understanding of their shared history. Since 2007, the border flow has changed dramatically. More Mexicans are leaving than coming to the U.S. 

One gesture that could send a powerful message and change the conversation: The next President should come here, walk across the bridge to Jaurez, arm-in-arm with civic and business leaders from both cities and speak of our shared humanity. 

  
Walking on the bridge to Juarez.