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“Crossroads of our being:” Thoughts on what comes after the election

November 06, 2020
By: Dan Berglund

I suspect the whole country woke up Wednesday morning and looked at the half that voted for the other candidate and said, “What were you thinking?!?” Rather than attempting to address the question of what people were thinking, let me attempt to address where we are and what we need to do.

The 2016 election of Donald Trump, the rise of Trumpism, the pandemic and George Floyd’s killing have laid bare fundamental crises that face America. The challenge that President-elect Joe Biden has is how to address the stark divisions we have in the country. The election results are just representative of the divisions we’re facing.

The challenges we face have been decades in the making. A shift to a knowledge- and technology-based economy has benefited those that have been prepared for it, but regions and peoples have been left behind. Additionally, the long-term decimation of manufacturing that has only recently stabilized has left communities and the economic livelihoods of people devastated.

The vast income inequality that we see in the country, coupled with the lack of social mobility, undercuts what most of us believed was the American dream — that everyone has the chance to improve their position in life. Of course, the American dream was more easily achieved if you were a straight white male, able to secure a college education, and didn’t face systemic racism.

Decades-long disinvestment in higher education at the state level has increasingly put advanced education out of reach, just at the time when both individuals and the country need it the most to compete in this economy. And as state support for higher education has lagged (or collapsed), the result has been a generation burdened with a record level of student debt, which has long-term implications for the country’s level of entrepreneurship, home ownership and overall well-being.

In addition to the debt, younger generations will also bear the brunt of climate change that we’ve known was coming for decades, but failed to take the kind of sustained action that was required to address it — in large part because of industry groups that conned people into believing anti-science propaganda.

Sadly, we’re seeing that vocal minority again who believe the way to resolve a pandemic is to ignore the scientists and either believe the pandemic doesn’t exist or that it’s just going to go away.

As I tossed and turned last night thinking how to best approach this column, I turned to the first episode of The Civil War documentary by Ken Burns and just as I began to drift off, I heard Shelby Foote describe the Civil War as being the “crossroads of our being.”

It struck me that’s where we are right now, not nearing a civil war as some fear and as some try to direct us to — but at the crossroads of our being. The challenges we face are enormous, but they are solvable. To be successful, though, they require action that is transformational rather than incremental.

I’m proud of those in our field that are addressing these challenges and are working to create a better future for all of us. But the fact is that state revenues that fund much of the field are down, and we know based on the experience of the Great Recession that it will be years before state revenues recover to the level they were prior to the pandemic.

Even if state revenues were at their peak, they would not be big enough to address the challenges we face. Action at the federal level is required.

The Federal Reserve chairman on Thursday again called for more stimulus. If more stimulus is approved, let it be action that can transform the country.

We’ll have to wait until January 2021 to see what the final make-up of the Senate will be due to the two run-off elections in Georgia. The division present in that body warns that President-elect Biden’s ambitious innovation plans are likely to run into a brick wall in the Senate.

Let us hope that the 77-year-old president-elect, the 80-year-old Speaker of the House, and the 78-year-old Senate Majority Leader are looking far into the future as they work together while we are at the crossroads of our being.