After last night’s State of the Union message and the Republican response, where to now? While the House Chamber was more civil last night during the president’s speech, civility alone will not generate the progress Americans yearn for. Instead, specific actions are now needed. Here are five key steps for us to focus on.
The context for last night’s speeches is essential to keep front and center. Politics has become too acrimonious and divisive. And too many people in the country feel left behind, while others struggle to keep going. We know these things; but there’s more. Underlying these and other elements is a thirst for the restoration of people’s belief in themselves and in one another; in our ability to come together to get things done. Even amid people’s hunkering down these days, they want to step back into the public square and be a part of something larger than themselves. They want to work not only for their own good, but the common good.
With this context in mind, here are five key steps we should take:
1. Hope still matters, maybe even more than change. The 2008 presidential race was all about “hope and change.” Of course, people want jobs, health care, safe streets, swifter movement toward energy independence. But the extent and manner of the change people want is still unclear. And we must not confuse a call for change with people’s hunger for hope. Americans know the challenges before us cannot be solved over night; they recognize there is much work to be done. As we work through questions of change, it is hope that people need right now: a belief that we can make progress amid our differences and that the progress is believable and real. We must not lose sight of this.
2. Focus on doable steps moving forward. Much of the president’s first year or more was a debate about “comprehensive” change. Now, even with new signs of civility, it remains clear from last night’s speeches and commentary that large differences remain between Democrats and Republicans, and even within the two parties. Our response must not be to turn to small, marginal actions merely to say we did something – there is too much at stake. Rather, what is required is real progress – clear signs that we are moving in the right direction. The most important thing for us to do is to get the country moving on the right trajectory and to create a renewed sense of momentum. That will come by taking doable, relevant steps and demonstrating that progress is still possible.
5. We must turn outward. So much of what is happening these days is driven by an inward pull among individuals, within organizations and communities, and across our nation. But the challenges we face – and our deep desire to act on our aspirations – cannot be met by people going it alone. Nor can they be solved through retreat or reaction in attempts to protect our narrow interests. Rather, so many of the challenges we confront can only be effectively addressed by people taking action together. For that to occur, we must change our very orientation, our posture, our stance and turn outward toward our communities and one another. This won’t cost us a dime, but it will pay huge dividends. We must reengage and reconnect.
Of course, there is much more to be said the day after the State of Union, but this where I would put money. We must place ourselves on a new course. We must engage in new ways. It can be done. To do so, I urge us to take these five steps.