The Images and stories from Hurricane Harvey and Irma are heart wrenching, disturbing, inspiring and evoke our deepest sympathies. It was and is inspiring to see stories that represent the best in humanity. People of all incomes, backgrounds, religions and cultures helping each other–working side by side with no thought of credit or reward. It made me wonder, what if we treated other things like a hurricane? What if we viewed our most pressing national issues like a natural disaster? What if we employed our best efforts and resources, not on being right or on gaining and maintaining power, but instead, on solving complex issues that also have powerful negative consequences? What if we viewed climate change, wealth inequality, the ever widening gap of educational opportunity, the massive labor shift caused by artificial intelligence and technology that is and will continue to engulf workers like a tsunami, and a host of other issues as disasters. What if we worked on preventing and recovering from these issues together, regardless of income, background, religion, culture or political identity. I am not so naive as to suggest that we can deal with the world’s most complex issues in way that is void of ideology or disagreement. On the contrary, I think we need everyone’s gifts, talents and perspectives. I think how we prepare for and deal with the consequences of these and other issues should be complex, diverse, and require multiple political perspectives. It feels like our current politics are more concerned with obtaining and maintaining power than using power to deal with the complex issues of our time. How we deal with these issues should be political. Agreeing to address our most pressing issues should be as obvious and intuitive to us as is helping people prevent and recover from a hurricane. Senator John McCain in his recent Washington post op ed said it this way:
” Our national political campaigns never stop. We seem convinced that majorities exist to impose their will with few concessions and that minorities exist to prevent the party in power from doing anything important. That’s not how we were meant to govern. Our entire system of government — with its checks and balances, its bicameral Congress, its protections of the rights of the minority — was designed for compromise. It seldom works smoothly or speedily. It was never expected to. It requires pragmatic problem-solving from even the most passionate partisans. It relies on compromise between opposing sides to protect the interests we share. We can fight like hell for our ideas to prevail. But we have to respect each other or at least respect the fact that we need each other.”
Our democracy is as audacious as it is aspirational. Our constitutional system clearly favors effectiveness over efficiency. Even with our system that pits ambition against ambition and asks us to have “you cut and I choose” we can still work together for the greater good. If we really are going to reach for our aspirational goals of “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” It is going to require more than the petty politics of the present. We will all need to focus more on that which unites us rather than that which divides us. There are no partisans in the eye of a hurricane. Maybe Irma and Harvey, even with their destructive fury, can help us see a better way forward. Let’s hope so.