Those things we learned from 2015 can be used to help guide our elected leaders in 2016.
We learned that the Fed finally, after a decade, increased interest rates. That is surely a sign that economic specialists realize the economy is back on solid ground.
In 2015 we learned that millennials surpassed baby boomers as the largest generation of Americans. That means less pressure on our Social Security system.
We learned that a majority of Americans believe in equal rights for gays. Will our General Assembly get the message?
In 2015, we had more deaths by Islamic terrorists than any time since 9/11. That means policies designed to protect us from terrorists remain highly relevant, but we must put it in proper perspective; since 2001, we have suffered fewer deaths from militant Islamists than from home-grown right-wing terrorists, according to multiple sources.
We learned that more Mexican immigrants are leaving the U.S. than are arriving. Where we are seeing an increase is from countries such as El Salvador, where the murder rates are so atrocious that people are fleeing to America for their safety. Our immigration reform debate should reflect that important differentiation between immigrant and refugee.
While all these things we learned in 2015 are important for us to keep in mind, they are not the two most troubling lessons that cry out for solutions.
First, the middle class no longer represents the majority of Americans. The wealthiest segment has increased, while the middle class has significantly declined. However, it is the lower class that has gained the most.
This is important for a number of reasons. It creates a problem for economic growth. Also, a strong middle class has long been a measuring post for successful democracies around the world.
When the United States had the strongest middle class in the world, it was without equal in economic might. While we still rank atop every other economy in the world, others are catching up. They, including China, have an increasing, not declining, middle class.
Second, we learned in 2015 that deaths from gun violence in the United States now outnumber deaths from vehicular accidents. We can argue till the cows come home about the Second Amendment, but that won’t change the facts that gun violence is a more serious problem than ever.
Some common sense changes must be realized if we are to make this a safer nation. That brings us to the president’s executive decision on gun control.
The president’s announcement is neither the bold step he hyped it to be nor is it the “unconstitutional abuse of executive powers” Republican officials are declaring it. Even the NRA said ho-hum.
The president did not declare any new law. Rather, he clarified existing regulations on which gun-sellers under law are supposed to obtain federal firearms licenses. That is an attempt to expand the number of gun-buyers subject to background checks, something polls reveal a majority of Americans want and something Congress has refused to do.
Congressional Republicans and presidential contenders argue that greater access to mental health services are what are needed in lieu of gun control measures.
Obama’s executive order does what Congress has failed to do; provide $500 million for increased mental health services.
It also requires the Department of Health and Human Services to remove unnecessary legal barriers preventing states from reporting relevant information about people prohibited from possessing a gun for specific mental health reasons.
Republicans say we don’t need new gun control measures; we just need to enforce the ones we have. The president’s action increases the manpower to do just that as well as developing a process to include information in the background check system about beneficiaries who are prohibited from possessing a firearms license for mental health reasons.
Along with these clarifications and adjustments in current regulations, the president ordered government agencies to pursue smart gun technology for all government agents.
The president’s action, while not all that bold, is a step in the right direction. Now it is up to the GOP-controlled Congress to show its hand. Are they going to represent the people or continue feeding from the NRA’s outstretched hand?
Michael Adkins is the former chair of the Hancock County Democratic Party. He lives in Greenfield.