Watching the news these days, you’d think the whole world is falling apart. Political charges and countercharges fly like arrows. But they often miss the mark of what’s really happening in America and what’s important for our future. The fact is that our country is making good progress on a number of fronts, but we also need to get some things right over the next few years to protect that progress.
First, the vast majority of Americans go about their daily lives as productive citizens. They love our country and respect its flag. They don’t obsess about every twist and turn in America’s history, but they know instinctively that the U.S. today is a better place than it was a century or two, or even a generation or two ago.
We all learned from our school lessons that Betsy Ross and her band of seamstresses patched together the first American flag, with its 13 stars in a circle representing the unity of the colonies striving for independence and freedom. Was that union imperfect? Of course it was, but our Founding Fathers understood that when they set out to create “a more perfect union.”
America is a work in progress. Our ancestors had to overcome the sins of slavery through a brutal civil war. In our lifetimes we’ve had to learn the painful lessons of the civil rights battle against bigotry and discrimination.
This march of the cause of freedom isn’t advanced by those who take a knee when the national anthem is played or otherwise disrespect a flag that represents the best chance of hope and opportunity for all. Companies like Nike, which cave to the ignorant whims of Americans who always find fault but never see the striving for justice and equality represented by our flag, are complicit in its desecration.
The U.S. today is a vastly more just and free nation than any other on earth. We’re such a beacon of freedom that people everywhere yearn to come here. Right now our southern border is being overwhelmed by refugees who would undoubtedly love to wrap themselves in America’s flag. That our leaders in Washington have so bungled the management of our immigration system to allow the crisis on our border to worsen is a blot on the federal government.
For those of us whose parents or grandparents came through through Ellis Island, the comparison is stark. Millions of refugees came to America in an orderly and humane procession in the late 19th to mid-20th century. They came in waves that were manageable, and assimilated into our country. But today the immigration wave has turned to a flood, and instead of managing the flood, Washington has let it overwhelm our capacity to contain it.
The answers to this crisis are straightforward: a clear signal needs to be sent that unlimited asylum and the endless “catch and release” of illegal immigrants will end and be replaced with a more orderly and humane approach. It’s been done before in the U.S., and it can be done again. All it takes is political will.
Apart from the immigration crisis, the American experiment is humming along with amazing resilience. Our economy is growing at a solid clip. There are plenty of jobs for those willing and able to work, unemployment is way down, wages are finally going up, and minority workers are sharing in the nation’s prosperity in record numbers. Keeping taxes and regulations in check have helped spur this economic resurgence.
But just as it must better manage our borders, Washington needs to be vigilant in managing our national economic progress. That means finalizing trade deals that have been languishing for too long. Months ago, Congress received the updated treaty that would stimulate U.S.-Canada-Mexico trade. Yet there’s no clear sign this important treaty will be approved anytime soon.
Similar trade deals with China and Europe also need to be finalized. A worldwide trade war right now could spell the end of the international economic recovery. That would be bad for American workers, too.
And looming on the horizon in just a few months is a potential federal budget and debt ceiling crisis that could sink our economy. Our leaders are playing with fire here, and if they don’t make progress to contain spending and slow the growth in our national debt, interest rates could soar and drag economic growth down.
To paraphrase Ben Franklin, our Republic’s progress is steady and sure, if we can keep it.
Al D’Amato, a former U.S. senator from New York, is the founder of Park Strategies LLC, a public policy and business development firm. Comments about this column? ADAmato@liherald.com.