Enthusiasm’s impact on affecting change is bifurcated.

What circumstances cause one person’s enthusiastic approach to an issue to be ineffective and to resonate with only a polarized minority, while another person’s enthusiasm launches a movement that results in a major cultural shift?

Maybe it’s as simple as enthusiasm that is not tempered by reality is self-limiting. Anyone can be enthusiastic about virtually any subject. One need look no further than Twitter or Facebook to confirm that society has no enthusiasm deficit.

Are the vocal Democratic freshmen in the House pushing us toward a better society with their passionate ideas on social equality, or are they offering a convenient counterpoise that normalizes Trump as a reassuring voice of status quo. The Gallup poll of showing Trump’s approval at 44% [1]might suggest the latter. I’d say it’s too soon to tell.

Proposing unrealistic or untenable solutions to current problems will do little more than move the Overton window [2] in one direction. Maybe that shouldn’t be dismissed as a meaningless result. It has certainly worked with Trump where his bizarre actions of today make his curious actions a year ago seem almost normal. Well, normal may not be an accurate characterization of anything he has done.

New ideas drive advancement

New voices and new ideas are necessary to make any meaningful advancement in any aspect of the human experience. But to be effective, those voices must be cognizant that reality and idealism are often at odds with each other. The voices that can acknowledge reality while still maintaining enthusiasm are the ones that can change the world.

Enthusiasm and bold new ideas are simply not enough. There needs to be an implementation pathway for those ideas that acknowledges that the end result will not be perfect. Some leaders cannot accept less than full realization of the ideal outcome as they see it. For them, compromise is defeat.

Is it a right place, right time issue?

It’s also probable that there’s a limitation to the acceptance of new ideas that depends on society’s awareness that a problem exists. A leader may have the right message, the right enthusiasm, and the right implementation plan, but if the audience isn’t ready for the proposed change, then little will change. Would Martin Luther King, Jr. have had the same impact in 1920 that he did in 1950? Of course not. His message would still have been as eloquent and as just, but would have fallen on mostly deaf ears. As odd as it may seem, radical change is based on previous, incremental change. As MLK said, “We are not makers of history. We are made by history.”

Is the time right for new social priorities in America?

I struggle to find an optimistic answer to this question. It’s become increasingly easy for people to live in customized information cocoons of their own making. Social media and the ubiquity of cable and streaming news, a.k.a entertainment, has become a barrier to the development of anything resembling a societal consensus on any topic.

In America, there seems to be an ever-increasing backdrop of ignorance and complacency. For example, many Americans don’t appreciate how radically distorted the distribution of wealth has become. In his book Aftershock, Robert Reich also points out that in 2010 the top 1% of Americans take home 23% of the total national income.  In 1979, the top 1% was taking home 9.8 percent.

We should be outraged at the inherent injustice in our system, but we’re not. The symptoms of the uneven distribution of wealth are unambiguous, but connecting the symptoms to the cause is obfuscated by the cacophony of opinions for the basis for the ills.

It is difficult to differentiate the informed opinions from opinions. The cold, hard data is readily available [3], but it seems that there is no awareness of its impact by the people most affected. Until that urgency is felt, there will be no appetite for revolutionary voices.

“Oh, people don’t even know. If poor people knew how rich rich people are, there would be riots in the streets.” – Chris Rock [4]

Short-term loss; long-term gain?

Yes, enthusiasm is a bifurcated emotion that can drive profound changes in society, or it can be but a passing moment of hope. The reality is that both are necessary. I was disheartened that people voted for alternative presidential candidates in 2016 who had no chance of winning which ultimately contributed to Trump’s victory. (Yes, Hillary was Hillary)

When I hear the new voices in Congress espousing “radical” new ideas – with which I tend to agree – I worry that there is the risk of alienating those people who actually vote in elections. The nightmare scenario is that voters will see Trump as the safe alternative to those radical ideas. There are so many things wrong with that thought.

On the other hand, I’m relieved to hear those voices push the envelope and maybe open the Overton window in a favorable direction. [5] Maybe they will fail. Maybe their ideas will label the entire Democratic party as radicals and the House will return to GOP control in 2020. But then maybe some of those ideas on income inequality, health care, taxation, and climate change will not seem quite as radical the next time around.

Of course, society may crumble if those issues aren’t addressed and none of it will matter. So, there’s that to consider!

[1] Trump Approval, Economic Confidence Rebound, February 13, 2019 https://news.gallup.com/poll/246662/trump-approval-economic-confidence-rebound.aspx

[2] The “Overton window” has become a useful, and misunderstood, shorthand for the state of American politics. Politico, February 25, 2018 https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2018/02/25/overton-window-explained-definition-meaning-217010

[3] “Top fractiles income share and the ‘good old days’” Confronting Mediocrity, November 21, 2010 https://confrontingmediocrity.net/2010/11/21/distributionofearnings/

[4] Economic Inequality: It’s Far Worse Than You Think” Scientific American, March 31, 2015 https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/economic-inequality-it-s-far-worse-than-you-think/

[5] “That fresh air is coming from the Overton window Ocasio-Cortez threw open” Washington Post, February 12, 2019 https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2019/02/12/that-fresh-air-is-coming-overton-window-ocasio-cortez-threw-open


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s