Catharsis: America needs a reformation


James LeVan, Staff

Today, Wednesday, March 10, is my birthday. I have no plans, no desires and, to be honest, there is a part of me that really does not want to celebrate this year at all. After all, this week also marks the one-year anniversary of when the pandemic hit Pennsylvania and the country began to shut down. 

This week has made me feel reflective about both my life this past year and the country as a whole and, well, we need change in this country desperately. I am not just talking about making the country pandemic-proof, but about the clashes between protestors and police over the summer as a result of the brutal murders of numerous African American men and women, the economic collapse, the election and then all of it reaching a crescendo with the terrorist attack on the Capitol. 2020 can best be described as a large mirror held up to the American soul and we can no longer deny the existence of its internal demons.

There is a myth that permeates through American society called “American Exceptionalism.” It is the belief that the United States is unique and superior to other nations. Well, as we have seen this past year, this is simply not true. We are not exceptional and are just as likely to collapse as the Romans, the Soviets or any of the numerous Chinese dynasties that lost the Mandate of Heaven. If nothing else, this year has shown us that we are not prepared for the problems of the 21st century and that we run the risk of falling by the wayside. If we do not make changes, then our experiment in the republican government— the first liberal democracy — will perish. 

In short, we need a reformation. What do I mean by a reformation? I mean that we need to start preparing our citizenry, institutions and infrastructure for the potential crises of the 21st century and beyond. We cannot just have a memory hole of this past year and all the crap we endured; we need to look at it and remember it. We need to study 2020 and all that led up to it. We also need to reconcile our history of racism and oppression and begin to bridge the gap between our ideals of equality under the law and opportunity and the reality that we do not live in a meritocracy. All this of course would take a long time to implement and will span three or four presidential terms but this work must be done. What sectors of our society do I believe need reform? Well, there are three in particular: democracy, labor and education.

We are holding onto old institutions and policies that prevent low-income and people of color from voting or being fully engaged in the democratic process. We also have a two-party system that elects leaders who seem more focused on winning reelection or auditioning for their next gig once they leave office than they are at governing or legislating. Ideas such as abolishing the electoral college, rank choice voting and laws to prevent gerrymandering are some of the lofty ideas floating around that will help improve the health of our republican government. These changes will require a lot of grassroots movement and activism from the ground up before they can be implemented. If achieved, however, we will see more pragmatic candidates emerge, more participation and more competitive districts.

Regarding labor, as an essential worker in a grocery store this past year, I have seen firsthand what the workers who have kept the supply chain stable have to go through and the horrors of corporate culture that is incredibly hierarchical and does not allow for a true voice to the people who kept this country afloat. Likewise, we are facing a huge labor shortage in trade skills across the country that if not corrected soon will spell disaster to our country’s infrastructure and economy. Therefore, we need to raise the federal minimum wage and implement a Universal Basic Income while also promoting unions and workplace democracy (allowing employees to have a say in the decision-making process of their work). This will give workers the ability to leave a company if they feel the workplace conditions are too toxic to continue.

Regarding education, universities are facing huge budget crunches resulting in part due to lack of funding from state legislatures and now lack of enrollment, as potential students are choosing to hold off on going to college because of the pandemic. Since universities are one of the United States’ more important sectors, the idea of universities closing or shrinking to where they only offer a small number of programs is incredibly problematic because it would mean the destruction of one of the few sectors of American society that is appealing to the outside world. It will also cause our workforce to become undereducated and therefore leave the United States at a competitive disadvantage to other nations. Encouraging education and making it more affordable to go to school and study while also properly investing in our universities will go hand-in-hand with preparing our workforce for the battles of the 21st century. A well-educated society is a productive and functional society.

During the pandemic, I have had the honor of learning history from one of the best scholars in the United States, Dr. Carly Goodman. In her classes, Dr. Goodman would often explain to us that one reason to study history was to inspire us to imagine a better world than the one we have now, that society is not a static force incapable of change, but a malleable thing that can be altered because we will it to. This idea is, in fact, my reason for studying history. I have always been fascinated with reformers and those who looked at their times and thought about possible solutions. I do not know about the rest of you, but I personally do not want to live through another year like 2020. I have an idea on what the world could look like post-pandemic, and if I had to take a guess, you do too. So, feel free to send your ideas to the Collegian. Maybe we can build a better America, and world, together.

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