Please excuse my optimism, but I think we are so mesmerized by the political gong show going on in Washington that we fail to notice a quiet democratic revolution taking place in American cities and states. Here are some examples.
One of America’s most serious problems is growing income inequality. The federal government has done little; the federal minimum wage is still $ 7.25 per hour. In contrast, San Francisco and Seattle have raised the local minimum wage to $15 per hour. One thing poor workers need is more money, and local governments are starting to see that they get it.
But just as important as current pay checks is the question of whether kids in school today will get the education they need to earn a good living later. New York City’s universal pre-k program gives them a step up by providing all 4 year olds in public schools the early education that up to now only wealthy parents could buy their children. Psychologists tell us that the early years are when young minds most need intellectual stimulation; and economists report that early schooling results in higher wages later in life.
But it’s not just pre-k education. New York State’s public universities also provide full time local students a free college education. The city of Memphis helps its employees pay back their outstanding student loans.
Too often we are shocked by a news story about an unjustified shooting of a minority civilian by a police officer. But now cities as different as Salt Lake City and Los Angeles are rewriting police manuals to encourage a “deescalation” in tense police/suspect interactions so that they don’t end in fatal gun fire. This results in fewer police shooting suspects, but also fewer suspects shooting police.
Another national disgrace is how our antiquated criminal justce system punishes poor Americans for their poverty. For far too long innocent people accused of non-violent misdemeanors have served jail time because they not could afford to pay the bond required for their pre-trial release. Others have pled guilty to crimes they did not commit because otherwise incarceration awaiting trial would lose them their jobs. Now Atlanta and Philadelphia no longer require money bonds in non-violent misdemeanor cases. That’s not only more fair to poor defendants, but also to the taxpayers who would otherwise pay the bill for their unnecessary incarceration.
And let me end this short survey by pointing out that California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, and New Jersey all ban the sale of the AR-15 semi-automatic rifle used in the recent Parkland school shootings.
To me these reforms are evidence that a younger, more compassionate electorate is signaling that they want to live in a America that reflects their values. I think they will get their wish. In a democracy the majority eventually prevails. And the statistics from the 2016 election show who will most likely comprise the majority in the future.
Here are six important voting groups who voted for Clinton over Trump by ten percent or more: women (C-52 T42), African-Americans (C-88 T-8), Hispanics (C-65 T-29), Asians (C-65 T 27), 18-29 year olds (C-55-T36), 30-44 year olds (C-51 T 41). Trump’s strongest support came from whites (T-58 C- 37), 45-64 year olds (T-52 C-44), and voters 65 and over (T-52 C 45.)
I don’t mean to suggest that success is inevitable. About 40% of our fellow citizens seem to have a radically different future in mind; and partisan gerrymandering and efforts to disenfranchise minority voters skew election results to the right.
Still, two facts seem clear; in 2016 Trump and the Republicans depended heavily on white male voters over 45 years of age, a group that will have less electoral punch in each succeeding election as Hispanics and Asians become a larger percentage of the population. And Trump’s actions since the election have further damaged the Republican “brand” in the eyes of many voters, but especially minorities and women.
The reforms I’ve described point to the next America– a democracy that recognizes its responsibility to improve the lives of all its citizens. Of course, it’s not a done deal. But in a contest between a party with a shrinking voter base nursing their resentments and a growing one voicing its hopes, I like our chances.