Politicians are stuck, and they aren’t trying to get unstuck…

It often feels like our country is more polarized than ever before, and that the partisan divide has brought our government to a near standstill. Government shutdowns and repeated threats of economic default due to political brinkmanship over the debt ceiling epitomize government dysfunction. Nominations for cabinet positions and judicial appointments that used to be approved by widespread margins now largely rely on strict party line votes. There’s no doubt that our divisive political environment is having a negative impact on our democracy and our ability to put national interests above those of partisan politics.

What’s worse than our inability to pass legislation or reach compromise to resolve some of our nation’s most pressing challenges is the way this political paralysis is preventing us from planning for our national future and the dramatic changes that lay ahead for our economy, our workforce, and our place in the international order. This political paralysis is obscuring the real challenges our nation is facing because our leaders aren’t even thinking about our nation’s future and the path we’ll need to take to prepare for the coming challenges. There is such a short-sighted focus on winning the political battles of the week that we are unprepared for the uncertainties of the future. The next decade will be characterized by a rise in automation that will fundamentally change the way we work and the composition of our job market, a rise in nontraditional work arrangements due to the rise of the gig economy, and a changing structure of benefits workers receive as a result of changing employment arrangements. In addition, the changing economy will increase the demand for workers with higher levels of education while our postsecondary education system struggles to demonstrate its value as the costs of a degree skyrocket and graduates (and dropouts) continue to carry an unsustainable level of debt.

But instead of thinking proactively about how to ready our workforce, prepare for necessary job retraining, and thinking strategically about how to maximize the economic benefits of these changes while minimizing the negative impact on workers, our politicians are mired in disputes about how to bring back jobs that are long gone and will never be restored. We’re debating long settled fact about the benefits of trade and the dangers of tariffs because our politicians want to pretend that political rhetoric can reverse the trends of economic progress. In other words, our politicians are looking backwards instead of forwards. They’re leaving us unprepared for the coming decade and vulnerable to decline.

We need to identify the challenges facing our nation and then figure out the best way forward. We need to prepare our workforce for the changes that are inevitably coming. And we need to stop pretending that policies act like time clocks that will reverse the impacts of previous administrations and global interdependencies. It’s time to think strategically about our national future and to operate proactively to ensure we maintain a healthy and strong economy into the next generation.

Nine in ten Americans disapprove of the job Congress is doing – and it’s no surprise; it seems like barely anything gets done these days. And yet as Americans we keep turning to the government like it will solve our problems. Why do we continue to think that politicians have the answers, especially when history has consistently proven that idea wrong? Why do we believe that our next election holds the possibility for national eutopia? Why do we put our faith in politicians to solve the problems we used to solve ourselves?

History shows that our nation has been at its strongest when our communities served as the focal point of American life, not political parties or the government. Government has swooped in to fill the voids left by our weakening institutions and the breakdown of local organizations. But the trend can be reversed. We need to re-prioritize what’s truly important. This means strengthening our families, faith communities, and local groups. We need to take care of each other rather than inviting the government to take care of us. We need to be more civically engaged to help mold the communities we want to live within.

To rebuild the foundation of American life, we need to truly understand what it means to be citizens of this nation. That means understanding the underpinnings of our democracy and our Constitution – what rights we have as citizens and what responsibilities have been entrusted to us by previous generations. We have a duty to stay informed by reading books and trusted news sources and to think critically about the information presented to us. We must work hard and develop a strong work ethic by getting our hands dirty and not shielding ourselves and our children from labor. We have to once again embrace what makes our country a thriving democracy – our freedoms, the rule of law, respect for human dignity and human rights as granted to us by our Creator, and our moral compass that has guided our national path since our founding.

Government is not the source of our rights and our freedoms, so why should it be the solution to our problems? We must be active participants in the reshaping of our national culture and ideas about what make our nation truly great. Let’s stop looking to politicians as if they hold the keys to our national salvation and start rebuilding our country from the community up.

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