Why the U.S. Can’t Solve Big Problems
The recent U.S. government report on the immense economic and human costs of climate change, Julian E. Zelizer argued last month, will likely be met by inaction on the part of the federal government. “The unfortunate reality,” he wrote, “is that American politicians have never been good at dealing with big, long-term problems.” The way out, he concluded, is through grassroots activism.
The U.S. style of government is intended to move slowly. Part of what is missing in the article is that states have the ability to act and provide a test-bed for how a national policy might work. The path to progress is not always through Congress. Individual states can pass legislation, show the rest of the country how the process works, and iron out any kinks in the plan, and then Congress and other state legislatures will have an example to work from. I believe this approach is the path to success.
I agree that our Constitution is fundamental to the paralysis of our government. It was written at a time when the primary concern was the tyranny of kings, and is extremely difficult to amend.
When it was written, there were fewer than 4 million people in the country (today there are more than 300 million). Furthermore, the country was overwhelmingly rural compared with today’s primarily urban nation. The industrial revolution was in its infancy. Though vestiges of the industrial revolution remain, we are moving rapidly into a digital, information-based society. The challenges we face today are far different from those of 1790.
We still need a Constitution that will resist tyranny, but also one that recognizes that such tyranny may come from corporations or cloud-based AI. I think our Constitution is fundamentally not up to the challenges we face today, and we need an entirely new one. I do not know how we get there, particularly in today’s toxic, polarized environment, but if we do not find a way, our problems will overwhelm us and cause our decline.
New Hope, Pa.
You identified the problem correctly, but it’s not just climate change—it’s everything from immigration reform and balancing the budget to Social Security and the national debt.
You also identified the cause correctly: It’s the U.S. system of government, but it’s also the gridlock, the politicking, the extreme polarization of American society into left and right. But this problem is not only in America; it’s also in most democracies, because politicians find it easier to kick the can down the road than to take unpopular measures that will cause them to lose the next election.
So the United States won’t be the only country failing on climate change.
Lee Way Leong
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