In last week’s column, I explored the lingering legacy of the Civil War in terms of flags, statues and hurt feelings. In our local and national discourse, we sometimes lose perspective on any topic that engages our emotions. There is a danger of losing track of timeliness in our debates: which topics belong to yesterday, today, or tomorrow?
The Confederate battle flag now looks like an item of yesterday’s news. It is separated from the present by 100 years of Jim Crow plus 50 years of growing equality for African Americans. It can linger for decades or centuries in yards and on car bumpers but needs to depart from state government poles. It may seem strange to most readers, but I would put gay marriage in this column of yesterday’s news, as well. While it may seem like a brand-new topic, it has been heading for legality for 50 years. While the recent Supreme Court decision is unsatisfactory to many Chesterfield residents, it also leaves few options for further resistance. Surrender does not have to mean agreement. Let us move on.
Donald Trump recently put immigration on the front burner by an ill-advised speech that described Mexican immigrants as criminals. Certainly it is easy to recognize Chesterfield’s Hispanic immigrant community just by driving north from Chester on Route 1. This community totals around 7 percent of the County total population, according to the Census Bureau. Most are not from Mexico. Immigration of Mexicans has slowed substantially in recent years, along with the birth rate in Mexico. Scientists and economists predict that climate change and hunger are likely to bring waves of illegal immigrants to the USA periodically in the future. So this topic is more of a future issue than a current one.
Health insurance and access to medical care has been an area of deep controversy for almost all the Obama administration. The Affordable Health Care Act has passed another Supreme Court hurdle, and like gay marriage, seems to be here to stay. In health care as in money, we tend not to want others to have as much as we have, because we think there is only so much of it to go around. If someone else gets more, does it mean that we will have less? So while the passions of Obamacare will pass along with the Obama administration, those passions will not pass for everyone.
Climate change seems like a topic that has had its day after 25 years of talk. But, despite all the talk, we have only started working on it with the Clean Power Plan. Does that Supreme Court verdict of two weeks ago mean we are done with climate change? No. Carbon dioxide, once released into the sky, tends to stay there for a long time, some of it for hundreds of years. We have released quite a lot of carbon dioxide. We started out with 270 parts per million, we have reached 400 parts per million today, and we will reach 700 parts per million by the year 2100 on our current track. Because of this, we will spend centuries talking about climate change, as well as working on it. It is a rare topic that will not go away, no matter what the Supreme Court rules, because it is driven more by physical laws than by human sense of right and wrong. In time, however, that human sense of right and wrong will fully engage on climate change, as Pope Francis advocated in his recent encyclical.
The Federal Deficit and the National Debt are a combined topic that have waxed and waned in recent years. Both of these scary columns of numbers ballooned in the Bush II era and the first Obama term. In the past two years the deficit has shrunk. Will our nation someday face a Greek-style fiscal crisis? We could address the long term financial stress driven by aging boomers such as myself, but we do not like compromising with other political groups. For this reason, the National Debt is more of a political peril than an economic one, but seems likely to hang around. We do seem to share the Greek pathological fear of taxation, nationally and especially locally in Chesterfield. That fear is an obstacle to crafting a workable public policy to reduce our debt.
Remember the Ebola scare of 2014? Sometimes when we think that a thing matters, it makes it seem to matter, even when it does not really. Sometimes, conversely, we are not in a mood to think that something matters – even when it really does. But in the long term, the signal of reality breaks through the background noise. My advice is to pay attention to see what really matters and when it matters. It is normal and healthy for humans to vent. But for every purpose, there is a season – and that season happens before the topic goes into the history books.