In a recent fundraising text, Joe Biden sought input on what values to emphasize in his campaign. My short answer is Sustainability. My long answer is below
The values your parents instilled in you when you were young were fine for then, but today’s threatened world demands they be enlarged. You were taught to treat others with dignity, but today we know there are no others. We are all one, one family, the family of man. Keeping the faith is a fine precept, but it implies there is only one faith. Today we know there are many faiths, all of which are worthy of being kept by those who believe in them.
The founders had it almost right: all men are created equal, and endowed with the inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Yet even their perceptive vision needs to be enlarged to include all life and all of nature, the Earth itself, because we now know that the human race, all life, and our home the Earth are endangered by ever-increasing levels of greenhouse gases that trap energy from the sun and raise the global temperature. In large part our own actions are to blame. Therefore, the value that matters most today is sustainability. We must care for all mankind, all life, the Earth, as if our existence depends on it. It does.
Sustainability is a term used so much these days that it has become a catch-phrase, a cliche, largely devoid of meaning. Here’s what it means in practical political terms. It means:
— forcefully decrying systemic and institutionalized racism, enacting legislation that addresses and, yes, eliminates discrimination against people of color in housing, education, the justice system, policing, and employment.
— welcoming immigrants and easing their entry into our society, and granting citizenship to Dreamers;
— providing free quality education at public schools pre-K -12 and at public colleges. (The GI Bill worked, didn’t it?);
— proclaiming that adequate health care is everyone’s right, and delivering it.
— committing the country to reducing carbon emissions by 50% by 2030 and to net-zero by 2050, whatever it takes;
— championing all citizens’ right to vote by depoliticizing districting, by moving Election Day to Saturday, by setting Federal minimum standards for registration, voting, number and accessibility of polls, availability and ease of voting by mail or electronically, security of voting machines from hacking, and by launching a constitutional amendment to end the electoral college — one person, one vote;
— advocating public funding of all national elections by proposing and passing legislation that effectively repeals the Citizens United decision, and by condemning the undue influence that money has had on politics (Elizabeth Warren called it corruption, and she’s right. Big money skews our healthcare system, enables fossil fuel companies to spew more and more emissions that imperil us all, and bloats our military.) Require that television stations and social media platforms provide a fixed number of ads per registered candidate, and require that all ads by non-candidates reveal their originators and meet certain standards of civility and truthfulness;
— acknowledging that as prescient and masterful as the founders were, they intended the Constitution to be a living document, that our world today is far different from theirs, and that strict constructionism and abstruse arguments over original intent should not impede amending it to meet today’s needs while preserving the essence of their vision. Articles in need of updating include gun rights, women’s rights, transgender rights, Congressional terms (how about 8 and 4 instead of 6 and 2?), and Presidential terms (just one, of 6 years);
— by addressing the widely held view that the government is dysfunctional by advocating rationalization of Congressional rules, regulations, and overlapping committees. Holds and filibusters erode trust in democracy and weaken its sustainability.
— promoting the right of workers to organize, and finding ways to redress the imbalance between employers and employees that has developed since Reagan and kept wages stagnant for more than 30 years. Start by raising the minimum wage to $15, and introducing a universal basic income (UBI) that will become ever more necessary as AI increasingly displaces workers. Small scale experiments with it have had very positive results.
— embracing free trade and globalization with renewed emphasis on devising safeguards that distribute equitably the benefits that accrue to workers and corporations. The coronavirus pandemic and the looming climate crisis should teach us all that we are one world. Nationalism is outmoded, unsustainable. Multiple alliances among trading partners are so clearly advantageous to all concerned that they will become a signal feature of the 21st century.
— rightsizing the military would enhance our security without compromising defense. Big wars this century, if any, will be unlike those of the past. We must maintain our readiness and our technological edge, but we can do so without the baggage and the global footprint of the past. We should actively pursue the elimination or near-elimination of nuclear weapons.
— uniting our divided people around a new grand strategy, similar to the way we came together to save the world for democracy by winning World War II, which we did by enlisting the support of the private sector through Lend Lease and Cost Plus contracts. We won the post-war too through the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe and PL-480 to feed it. We all joined together again, public and private sectors alike, to put a man on the moon. The challenge we face today is to save the world, not for democracy but for humanity. If we dedicate ourselves to transforming our own society to use only clean energy, we will inspire other nations to follow our lead and we will profit from it. Climate deniers claim it’s too expensive, but economists agree that the costs of transitioning to clean energy will be recouped in short order, and global GDP will soar.
I’m sure there are more implications of adopting sustainability as your highest value, but you have a staff to fill in what I’ve left out. You want to unite the country. To do that you must transcend partisan politics, left and right, urban and rural, centrist and progressive. You must challenge and inspire us, then give us a mission worthy of our founding principles. Saving the world by living sustainably and leading the world to do likewise so the Earth itself is sustained, is such a mission. It will win you the Presidency, and a Nobel prize. Thanks for asking me about values and prompting this long answer. Good luck and best regards.