Last month for the first time since 2007, I began living in the United States again. While others talk of feeling a sense of imposter syndrome in their capacity as a Yale student, I can’t help but feel the same in my capacity as an American today. Returning after 13 years abroad to an America convulsed by a series of crises, I feel more like what I imagine a foreign correspondent feels, reporting from a distant and alien landscape.
The country is being ravaged by a virus that we –– among western countries –– seem uniquely incapable of getting under control; we’re struggling to resolve foundational social and economic issues on everything from guns to abortion to healthcare. And we are in the midst of a moment of racial reckoning that, while being one of justice, hope and progress, is also often one of division, anger and hatred.
While in a number of ways we are in a worse place than we were 13 years ago, I believe a foreign correspondent would also discern signs of renewal and paths to progress. My time away from the United States has enabled me to see more clearly where that hope abides.
Specifically, there are three changes, among many, from the last 13 years that point towards a better future, once we have weathered this storm of disease and demagoguery.
First, there are more women, racial and ethnic minorities and LGBTQ people serving in the halls of Congress than at any other point in our history. As of 2018, the Senate is over a quarter female, up by 9 senators from 2007 and there are 28 more women in the House of Representatives than there were in 2007.
And we’ve never needed this representation more –– as we reckon with racial justice, we need support from the highest levels of power. Protests alone, while revealing a deep and abiding passion among much of the American public, will not fully achieve the systemic changes we need. While the journey towards equal representation is long and slow, our government today is more representative of minorities than ever before. Find hope in that.
Second, the passage of the Affordable Care Act provided millions of Americans with health insurance, putting the United States squarely on track to match other nations in providing universal health care. More importantly, a majority of Americans now express support for Medicare for All and states across the country have expanded Medicaid access. While the Trump administration is currently trying to roll back Obamacare, popular support isn’t on his side. Here too the gravitational pull of policy is towards expanding the provision of healthcare; not narrowing it.
Finally, we should find hope in the much wider consensus around the reality of climate change and the necessity of policy action to meet it. Undeniably, it is a bleak time for this issue in America: we have pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord and this administration shows no interest in following the science of climate change or acting drastically to mitigate its impact. There is a very real clock on this issue. However, we can be encouraged that if there is ever going to be a group of people with the incentive and will power to save our planet, it is the generation coming to political power now.
It is easy to focus on the bleak and broken in this country. But as someone who has returned to America after a dozen years abroad, I am much more struck by the underlying progress on issues of climate change, healthcare and minority representation than by the still unfinished struggle on these issues.
PHILIP MOUSAVIZADEH is a first year in Trumbull College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.