Rights and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties

The Signal - - OPINION - DEMO­CRATIC VOICES Joshua Heath is a Va­len­cia res­i­dent and a po­lit­i­cal sci­ence stu­dent at UCLA. He has served two terms as a del­e­gate to the Cal­i­for­nia Demo­cratic Party. Demo­cratic Voices runs ev­ery Tues­day in The Sig­nal.

If any­thing is true in 2018, it’s this: to­day is an era of nar­cis­sism—the mu­sic we lis­ten to, the movies we watch, the ad­ver­tise­ments we read have one, sin­gu­lar mes­sage: cel­e­brate the self, above all else.

We have en­tered into an era where Amer­i­cans are ma­ni­a­cally fo­cused on se­cur­ing their rights—in other words, per­sonal ben­e­fits—and give lit­tle con­sid­er­a­tion to the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties they owe the broader com­mu­nity, the sac­ri­fices they must make to en­sure a de­cent world for all, not just them­selves.

This frame of mind has been sin­gu­larly de­struc­tive on our pol­i­tics. To give an ex­am­ple: de­spite our cur­rent epi­demic of mass shoot­ings, with over 300 happening just last year, Repub­li­cans in Congress can hardly agree on any so­lu­tions to com­bat gun vi­o­lence. Even pop­u­lar ideas like an as­sault weapons ban and pro­hibit­ing ter­ror­ist sus­pects from own­ing firearms are shot down by the right.

GOP lead­ers take this nar­row view, de­spite the clear and con­vinc­ing ev­i­dence that com­mon sense re­forms work. A study from the Amer­i­can Jour­nal of Pub­lic Health an­a­lyzed the re­sults from a 1994 back­ground check bill passed in Con­necti­cut.

This leg­is­la­tion re­quired ev­ery cit­i­zen to pass a back­ground check and safety course be­fore buy­ing a gun, and over the course of ten years, gun vi­o­lence deaths were re­duced by 40%. Ap­ply­ing that fig­ure na­tion­ally, if Congress passed sim­i­lar leg­is­la­tion, we could save thou­sands of lives.

It was a sim­ple pro­posal, akin to the laws that re­quire teenagers to pass a driv­ing test be­fore get­ting a li­cense, and can hardly be called anti-2nd amend­ment. But when­ever sim­i­lar pol­icy is pro­posed in Wash­ing­ton, it is de­feated by Repub­li­cans who want the ab­so­lute right to own a firearm, with­out reg­u­la­tion, even if it means many Amer­i­cans con­tinue to die need­lessly.

The GOP tax cut bill, set to add $1.9 tril­lion to the na­tional debt and mostly ben­e­fit the wealthy, is another case study which shows our col­lec­tive prob­lem with nar­cis­sism. Ac­cord­ing to news out­let the Hill, rich con­ser­va­tive donors were very clear to the Congress: re­duce our taxes or we won’t fund your cam­paigns. The self­ish­ness of this pos­ture was truly breath­tak­ing.

Our coun­try has a series of im­por­tant prob­lems to tackle, in­clud­ing se­cur­ing long term fund­ing for So­cial Se­cu­rity and Medicare that can han­dle the baby boomer’s de­scent into old age; build­ing a safety net that can pro­vide op­por­tu­nity in the 21st cen­tury and cush­ion the neg­a­tive ef­fects of au­to­ma­tion and out­sourc­ing; and re­duc­ing our na­tional debt to en­sure fu­ture eco­nomic sta­bil­ity.

At this mo­ment, we need higher taxes on the wealthy, who have pros­pered so im­mensely in the mod­ern econ­omy, in or­der to meet th­ese com­mit­ments.

Un­for­tu­nately, the GOP donors didn’t give a damn; they wanted their tax cut and got it, which made Amer­ica’s al­ready pre­car­i­ous fis­cal sit­u­a­tion a good deal worse. The pub­lic in­ter­est was not their con­cern, only the de­sire for more and more wealth.

Some­thing has to give. The times call for a new gen­er­a­tion of lead­ers to sail against the tide and tell folks a very sim­ple truth: Life does not re­volve around you. Your life mat­ters, your rights mat­ter, but you must also re­mem­ber the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties you hold to your com­mu­nity and your coun­try, to en­sure a de­cent and just so­ci­ety for all.

This dual frame of mind, which con­sid­ers the needs of one’s chil­dren, as well as the con­di­tion of the broader Amer­i­can fam­ily, is the essence of good cit­i­zen­ship. With­out it, an in­di­vid­ual’s claim to pa­tri­o­tism is mean­ing­less.

In­evitably, such a mes­sage would prob­a­bly garner two per­cent of the vote on elec­tion day, but that’s no mat­ter, there’s value in fall­ing on your sword for a mat­ter of prin­ci­ple.

As the Bi­ble tells us, prophets are with­out honor in their own coun­try, but with­out such men and women—brave souls will­ing to risk their rep­u­ta­tions for a higher pur­pose— the world stands still and noth­ing changes.

Rich con­ser­va­tive donors were very clear to the Congress: re­duce our taxes or we won’t fund your cam­paigns.

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