With the approach of Thanksgiving, many Americans pause to give thanks. Public opinion polls show that most Americans clearly value and are thankful for family and friends.

Yet Americans also find that their lives can be impacted by local, state, regional, national and international political events. The two most common topics are taxes and regulations. These issues often result in spirited debates.

Contributing to the intensity of the debates is where they occur. The United States is one of the most diverse countries in the world. This adds to the chorus of folks with differing opinions.

From its inception, the territory that embraces the United States included native Americans as well as Europeans and Africans. Later, more people from Latin America, Russia, The Middle East, The Balkans and Asia joined others and became newcomers. These people brought to their adopted homeland a wide array of cultures, languages, customs and foods.

All who live in this country are experiencing a continuing revolution in time and space relationships. We are also witnessing the digitization, virtualization and automation of more and more things. New technologies have thrust a new scale of life upon us.

The rapidity with which these changes occur create tension, anxiety and even fear. These changes, in turn, are often distilled in politics. Particularly in presidential elections, voters face choices that can have personal consequences. The upcoming 2020 presidential contest — with debates on health care, immigration, foreign policy, addiction, housing, education and gender identity — reveal the connections between political decision-making and people’s lives.

Electrifying moments like the 2008 election of Barack Obama, for example, had a significant impact on our society. Not everyone approved of the outcome, but the impact was clear. Obama was our first black president. His administration created a new set of progressive policy initiatives.

It seems that the current Trump administration is engaged in an attempt to overturn or roll back Obama-era policies, including those on health care, environment, foreign policy and immigration.

While change is constant, many analysts contend the 2020 elections will be the most significant in the past 50 years. Today, more than any other time, we are divided by extremes of wealth and power. And we are also divided by neighborhood, race, ethnicity and class.

We need to craft a politics of hope, not fear, and of true security, not perpetual war. Despite conflicting ideologies and hatreds, we value the fundamental right embodied in words like freedom and liberty. Extremes of wealth and power cannot be reconciled with a genuinely democratic politics.

The critical debate for the future is not about the size of government. The central choice is not between the “free market” and government; it is between a market organized for broadly based prosperity and one designed to deliver almost all the gains to a few at the very top.

Over the course of U.S. history, belief in freedom or liberty as a right of all humanity has coexisted with persistent efforts to limit freedom by race, gender, class, and in other ways. Today we find workers, women, activists and some office-holders engaged in the ongoing struggle to secure the right of everyone to equal opportunity, regardless of skin color, sexual identity, residency and economic status.

The promise of American freedom and opportunity that brought so many people to our shores remains a beacon of hope. The struggle to secure this American Dream remains. It will continue to be forged in the interface between politics and society.

Scharnau is retired from a history teaching career of some 50 years. His email address is LiberalRalph@gmail.com.

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