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Ronks, PA, United States © gsheldon

When Good People Do Nothing…

Everyone with a stake in the future of America must take it upon themselves to assist those who are marginalized.

“The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it,” Albert Einstein is quoted to have said. Variations of the above statement have been attributed to Edmund Burke, an Irish philosopher, born in 1729, as well as PlatoJohn Stuart Mill, John F. Kennedy and likely many others.

Regardless of who said it, this statement has been bantered about frequently since Donald Trump’s election, and his continuing assault on environmental regulations, free trade, immigration, women’s issues, individual rights, scientific reasoning and the free press. If Trump is the problem, how many of us are doing something of substance to turn things around? Or are we simply railing against Trump, our electoral process and “the system”?

The numbers reveal a disturbing trend in US politics, one that may be difficult to reverse. Nearly 3.6 million fewer Democratic votes were cast in 2016 than in 2008. By contrast, 3 million more Republicans voted in 2016 than in 2008. Democrats won the popular vote by more than 9 million in 2008, nearly 5 million in 2012 and almost 3 million in 2016.

Regardless of the Democratic majority in 2016, it was not enough. If more people had come out for Hillary Clinton in key states, Trump would not have won the Electoral College. There have been anecdotal reports that some people voted for him because they didn’t think he could win, others left the presidential choices blank because they did not like either candidate, and plenty never went to the polls. Donald Trump is president because many Democrats and others who should have known better did nothing or did the wrong thing.

The driving force on November 8, 2016, regardless of ethnicity, party membership, political philosophy or sexual orientation, was the economy. This seems to ignore that during the Obama administration, the stock market doubled and the unemployment rate halved. In addition, 20 million more Americans received health care.

Carping about the American economy is stranger still when viewed from a global perspective. Based upon an article in Fortune Magazine, we are the richest country in the world, with a total of $63.5 trillion in private wealth. Compared with more than 200 countries in this world, we are 11th in GDP per capita — $56,084, based on the International Monetary Fund — which is extraordinary when you consider that America has the third highest population in the world. All ten nations with a higher GDP per capita than the United States have a combined population of approximately 48 million, about 15% of ours. Ten countries with populations between 100 million and 300 million have GDP per capita values that range from 28th (Japan) to 167th (Ethiopia).

Since America is in great shape financially, why is there so much anger?

Here is the problem: The Pew Research Center reported that real wages for salaried workers have changed little since the early 1960s. The Economic Policy Institute found that between 1978 and 2014, inflation-adjusted CEO compensation increased by 997%, while salaries for most workers improved by only 10.9%. Income disparity has steadily increased since the 1960s. Most salary increases go to the top 0.1% of American wage earners. This is the result of many new business practices, brought about by policies and practices of past presidents and elected officials from both parties. Since the 1960s money has not trickled down — it trickled up.

The problem of income disparity will only be solved if Americans and their elected officials understand that this is unrelated to border security, immigration, foreign terrorists, bathroom preferences, and women’s health, loss in manufacturing jobs or gay marriage. The current administration’s tactics — isolating us from the global economy, restricting immigration, loosening environmental regulations — is no solution. Unless income disparity is reduced, voters will continue to be angry, and there could be more Trumps in our future.

Most Americans have probably heard some version of Einstein’s quote and its relevance to Germany in the 1930s. No one denies that since Trump won, more Americans are marching, writing angry letters and op-ed columns. Regardless, many who are alarmed at this new change in direction are doing nothing of substance to correct it. From my observations, some are doing the reverse, avoiding The New York Times, or refusing to watch the news because it’s upsetting.

If people are upset with the president’s policies, they should act. Send letters to elected officials, attend public meetings, run for public office, support sensible candidates, donate to beleaguered organizations such as Planned ParenthoodAmerican Civil Liberties Union and Southern Poverty Law Center. Criticizing, ridiculing and ostracizing Trump supporters doesn’t count as action. If done properly, letter writing can be effective and, for some, reduces persona stress.

Those of us concerned with the situation in America must do more than complain and agitate. Recently, I had two experiences that illustrate the complexity of this problem.

FAILING UNIVERSITY

While teaching at a small liberal arts university, one of my students did poorly on an early quiz in environmental science. After talking with him I discovered that he was married, had a 40-hour a week job and was taking a full academic load. He had graduated from a rural high school, worked for a few years, then decided to attend university and pursue environmental studies as a career. Although this was likely within his ability, it seemed like a strange choice; he didn’t have a good background in math or physical sciences and had little interest in the natural sciences.

Furthermore, to really pursue this career, more than four years of undergraduate study would be needed. It was surprising that a counselor didn’t suggest one of the three largest programs in our institution: nursing, law enforcement or social work, any of which might have suited him better. Perhaps they were enamored by pictures of people standing by the side of a river, in a marsh or riding in a survey boat.

Ultimately, he failed environmental science and left the university with nothing but an obligation to repay a loan. What caused his plight? Any of the following: overzealous university recruiters, the ease of obtaining government loans for education, overworked and uniformed counselors, or lack of guidance from home or high school.

LACK OF EXPERIENCE

Here is another situation at the other end of the spectrum. A doctor of pharmacy graduate friend was passed over for a series of postgraduate residencies; he and his parents were obviously concerned about his future. One look at his résumé illustrated the problem. His “work experience” consisted exclusively of brief volunteer activities in hospitals or pharmacies.

This young man was 28 years old and never held a paid position as a lab tech or teaching assistant. Worse yet, he had never been paid to flip a burger, sweep a floor or deliver a newspaper. He was at a level where he should eliminate part-time jobs from his résumé and include only positions related to his field of study. He had neither.

Several weeks later, he had a telephone interview with an organization searching for pharmacy residents. He had chosen a remote location, thinking (wisely) that he had a better chance there. “Remote” was accurate, although within the United States, access was only by air or boat.

After the telephone interview, he was turned down because he “lacked paid work experience.” Neither he nor his parents comprehended the problem until he interviewed. There were cultural reasons for this slip-up. Both parents were immigrants and did not understand that his lack of paid work could be a severe limitation in this country. That is a partial explanation but not an excuse. After eight years of interacting with peers and faculty at a well-known university, it is surprising that nobody pointed out this deficiency to him.

TIME TO DO SOMETHING

The young people were poised to do well. They were associated with good institutions, had funding, were on recognizable career paths, and had parents interested in their welfare. Regardless, they received poor advice. If they were left hanging, what about those with no family support, no money, no idea of what lies ahead? What about the stereotypical Trump voter: middle-aged with no job, no computer experience, limited personal skills, and possibly the first in their family to go beyond high school?

Unless everyone, Republicans and Democrats alike, take it upon themselves to provide realistic assistance to job seekers, this will be a tough problem to solve. Throwing money at training programs, encouraging more people to obtain higher education, will not be sufficient.

Many developed countries are ahead of America in health careeducation and equality for women. Often their citizens speak more than one language, seem to have a more balanced view of climate change and the need for clean energy. In this country, a high percentage of parents fret if their children study evolution, are assigned too much homework, can’t pray in the classroom, or have to take a class in human reproduction. Our new president cannot be blamed for these disturbing trends — unfortunately, they have been a long time in the making.

This is not the time to ignore the political situation or ridicule those who elected Trump. We are experiencing a global shift in the structure of employment, largely brought about by the rapid rise in microprocessors that will not be stopped. All of us, whether in academia, business or the trades, must act. We must find the time to provide realistic direction for young people preparing to enter the job market. They must understand career paths, obtain the best training and prepare top-notch résumés. This won’t be an instant solution to all problems, but helping all of our citizens obtain a good job is an excellent start. It portends a better outcome than revitalizing the coal industry or building a wall along our southern border. It could get us off the road to fascism.

Whether it was Burke or Einstein who first made the statement is not the issue. Everyone with a stake in the future of this country, regardless of political leaning, must take it upon themselves to assist those who were marginalized in the 2016 election.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Photo Credit: gsheldon