One of the under-appreciated impacts of globalization is the emotional cost that hammers our communities. As Richard Longworth’s Caught in the Middle explains, our region has been ripped apart by the forces of globalization. The tight weave of industry and agriculture is now left rather tattered. With the loss of jobs comes the looming loss of opportunity and hope. So individuals, businesses, communities perhaps even religious communities can find themselves lapsing into a kind of depression. Maybe even despair.
Naturally in this swirl it is easy to practice the politics of denial (the Right’s “tax cut ’til we drop” is a case in point, but the left has their’s). Another outcome is the populism of the Christian right. And a third is the persistent tendency on all sides to a kind of magical thinking, the notion that if just have the right proposal, the right program then things will turn around (cf. Fair Tax, and our old friend Reform Michigan Government Now!). But the most damaging is that failure of vision, in Michelle Obama’s wonderful words last night,
All too often we settle for the world that is.
In globalization our dreams get circumscribed by our fears. At this corner the spiritual and the political jostle one another.
But for the moment we’ll stay with the political. This globalized world asks us to rethink such issues as environment, healthcare, education and the economy. There is a common ground in that rethinking and imagining. The brain trust of civic leaders from Calvin College has often led the way — albeit at the cost of continued Republican domination. However, it cannot be left to them. In fact, this is a prime area where Democrats throughout West Michigan can seize the initiative. This new politics of opportunity will need its advocates and its policies. Choices will have to be made. Some answers will be conservative, and some liberal. As Democrats we will work on these problems as Democrats. So you bet, we’ll be partisan. As I told the elder in church Sunday, I’m all for the common good as group activity, but when elections come around… well, I play to win.
(A version of this essay also appeared at West Michigan Rising)