Joshua Heath: Rights and responsibilities

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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.

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.

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