Contrary to what you hear from many of our elected leaders — and those wishing to unseat them — progress often takes small steps. Members of the Star Tribune Editorial Board are realistic about what can be accomplished in Washington, D.C., and Minnesota in the year ahead, but we are not without hope.
Here are some of the board’s modest wishes for 2020:
Peak polarization: It’s beyond wishful, perhaps, but still it must be said. Americans must hope that their bitter political divisions at least grow no worse in the bruising political year that doubtless lies ahead — and that, perhaps, a more constructive debate can begin to emerge. A little less indulgence with cable news and incendiary social media, a bit more of an effort to understand how issues look from the “other side,” a deeper skepticism that professional provocateurs, right or left, really speak for anyone but themselves — one such step at a time, from one American at a time, could only help. No one should expect spontaneous reconciliation, or anything less than a bare-fisted campaign season — but the first step in achieving better communication across the political divide is to communicate one’s desire for it.
Respect for expertise: Fact-based, data-driven decisions rely on experts. But in many cases, these experts are excoriated by those who find their findings politically inconvenient. In the Ukraine case, for instance, the professional, patriotic envoys and officers who upheld their oaths and told the truth were scorned, or worse, by the president’s defenders and President Donald Trump himself. Climate scientists often face the same treatment. And lawmakers from both parties don’t seem to listen to, let alone heed, fiscal experts who warn of a coming debt and deficit-spending reckoning. The country would benefit if those in power more often sought, and acted upon, the advice of experts.
Health care: Don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good. There are decent intentions behind the push to blow up the current health care system and start over with Medicare for All. But serious questions remain about what it would take to make this a reality. Namely, what kind of tax increases would be needed to pay for it, what would happen to those employed by insurers, and how would medical providers handle likely reductions in what they’re paid? The answers are complicated and controversial, making it unlikely this sweeping reform will become a reality anytime soon. There are other, more doable, ways to work toward universal coverage. One example is a public option, which would allow Americans to buy into a government-run, benefit-rich program like Medicare.
Affordable housing: Though the economy is growing, and unemployment is at record lows, too many are being left behind. Homelessness continues to be a problem, with untreated mental health issues a root cause in many cases. Others have housing but struggle with affordability. There are reasons to be optimistic. St. Paul and Minneapolis have affordable housing funds that they’re using to leverage other resources. Hennepin County and Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis will soon begin work on Exodus 2.0, a project that will double the number of deeply affordable supportive units for homeless people who may also have health problems. And state officials recently announced that Minnesota will receive $259 million in state and federal funding to boost housing options for vulnerable populations.
Gun violence: This should finally be the year that Americans find a compromise between respect for the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms and restraint for the awesome responsibility that should accompany such a freedom. There was a time in this nation’s not too distant past when gun ownership was simply seen as a way to protect life and property if law enforcement was not immediately available or a means to hunt, either for sport or food. Few felt compelled to stock arsenals out of fear of their own government, and combat-style weapons better suited to a theater of war were nearly unknown to the average citizen. Gun violence has become an epidemic in this country, and the resulting toll has already reached previously unimaginable heights. Absolutists on both sides have driven Americans to separate corners. Let 2020 be the year that the vast majority of Americans in the middle on this vital issue prevail on common-sense reforms.
Respect for the environment: Climate change is an existential challenge that will take an international approach (the Paris Climate Agreement was a start), yet there’s much that individual states can do to protect their natural resources. Consider the debate over mining in Minnesota. The Editorial Board has stated its case that the proposed Twin Metals Minnesota project poses too great a threat to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The project’s owners have also had their say, and urged the public to respect the permitting process. Our hope is that Minnesotans will consider all of the arguments and make their voices heard in Minnesota and Washington.
Fewer robocalls: Basic quality of life is important, too. The Star Tribune reported this fall, via the state Department of Commerce, that the average Minnesotan with a phone had received 58 spam calls in 2019. In a Nov. 11 commentary, state Rep. Zack Stephenson, DFL-Coon Rapids, described his intent to pursue a “toughest in the nation” bill to stifle those unwanted calls. Meanwhile, the Traced Act — a bipartisan bill passed by Congress in December and signed Tuesday by President Trump — seeks to thwart the ability of scammers to call from a “spoofed” phone number. Both the federal and prospective state action would require providers to implement new solutions at no extra cost to consumers.
A Super Bowl victory: We know what you’re thinking. Hoping the Minnesota Vikings will finally win a Super Bowl isn’t a modest goal — not after decades of disappointment. But to quote the poet Arthur O’Shaunessy — in a line you might remember best from the film “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” — “We are the music-makers and we are the dreamers of dreams.”
What are your wishes for Minnesota and the nation in 2020? Add them to the comments or, better yet, submit a letter to the editor at startribune.com/opinion.