With the government still partially shut down, partisan politics is generating more heat than light.
President Donald Trump, in his unique blustery style, believes he can slander the Democratic leaders that he must negotiate with, burlesque their position and demand capitulation in return for simply allowing the government to run. When the Democratic-led House recently passed legislation that was approved by the Republican Senate in December to fund the government, Republican senators refuse even to put it on the floor.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi delights in tweaking Donald Trump, suggesting that he should postpone his State of the Union address until the government is up and running. Trump retaliates by postponing Pelosi’s trip to see the troops in Afghanistan and leaking the schedule, violating basic security.
Lost in all this is common sense. And looking at where we are as a country suggests that common sense is now perilously absent.
The United States has the largest military budget by far, larger than Russia and China combined. Yet we are adding money to a Pentagon budget already bigger than it was in comparable dollars at the height of the Cold War. That doesn’t make sense.
The U.S. has the most powerful nuclear arsenal in the world. We have weapons that could literally destroy the world, unleashing a deadly nuclear winter. Yet President Barack Obama and now Trump committed to spending over a trillion dollars on another generation of nuclear weapons. That doesn’t make sense.
The U.S. has “locations” — bases — in over 160 countries. We are literally trying to police the world. That doesn’t make sense.
The U.S. suffers obscene and debilitating inequality. The three richest billionaires have as much wealth as half of all Americans combined. Yet the Republican Congress just passed a tax bill that will end up giving more than three-quarters of its benefits to the richest 1 percent. That doesn’t make sense
Virtually everyone agrees that education is essential if we are to rebuild a broad and vibrant middle class. Yet teachers are on strike across the country because cuts in education funding have left them with crowded classrooms, supply shortages and inadequate salaries. College debts that students are forced to assume now are higher than any other form of personal debt — including auto loans and credit card debt. That doesn’t make sense.
We spend nearly twice per capita on health care than any other advanced industrial country and yet have worse health care results. For the first time, life expectancy is declining, something that simply does not happen to advanced countries. Despite health care reform, 20 million people still go without insurance and tens of millions more are underinsured. Taxpayers pay for a good portion of all research on prescription drugs, yet we pay the highest prices in the world for our prescription drugs. That doesn’t make sense.
Trump demands $5.6 billion as a down payment for the wall he wants to build along the Mexican border, a wall that he promised Mexicans would pay for. He says it will stem the flow of drugs, but most of the drug trade comes already through legal ports of entry. He says we have a crisis on the border, but in fact undocumented immigration has been declining for years. So, even Republican legislators from the Texas border argue that Trump isn’t making sense.
This list can go on. Dr. Martin Luther King said he couldn’t follow the old “eye-for-an-eye philosophy” because “it ends up leaving everyone blind. He told the story of driving from Atlanta with his brother at night. For some reason the other drivers didn’t dim their high beams. Exasperated, his brother said, “I’m tired of this. The next car that comes refusing to dim its lights, I’m going to refuse to dim mine.”
“Don’t do that,” said Dr. King, “somebody has to have some sense on this highway.”
As a country, we are moving along a winding road toward freedom. There are curves and hills, potholes and perils. We are constantly tempted to retaliate against those who get in the way.
We get distracted by those who would divide us, those who foster fear and hate. We are constantly in danger of losing our bearings. But we’ve got to remember Dr. King’s admonition to his supporters in Birmingham, Ala., after the 1963 Ku Klux Klan terrorist bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church that killed four innocent little girls.
“Wait a minute, Birmingham,” he taught. “Somebody’s got to have some sense in Birmingham.”