Gary Horton | Please Shift Forward, Not in Reverse

Gary Horton

I saw a cute meme the other day on Facebook. It was a stylized Joe Biden sitting in a vintage Corvette, looking over with his wide grin and his signature Ray Bans. Says Biden, “Remember: You put it in D to go forward. You put it in R to go backwards.”  

Our entire country needs to shift gears seriously into DRIVE forward again. Let’s stop braking all over ourselves and instead, let’s reignite America’s big dreams. 

American politics today isn’t too much different than a vintage car transmission. We’ve got loud folks pushing for Reverse, quiet folks selecting Neutral, and some forever pressing forward Drive gears.  

To our existential detriment, too many of us, often in the South, are stuck in Reverse. They want to take us back to some magical time when America was “great.” Their messaging and flag waving and Capital rioting revolves mostly around culture war issues. Rehashing, reliving, re-fighting battles that were settled long ago. They’re not happy about the direction America chose to take years ago, and they want to go back, before the majority of Americans won hard-fought battles. 

Go back on voting rights, making it harder for minorities to vote. 

Go back on women’s rights, making it impossible in some states for women to control choices over their own bodies. 

Go back on education and enlightenment by banning books from school and public libraries. (Yes, adios to “Catcher in the Rye.” Goodbye to “Slaughterhouse 5.” Harry Potter is suspect. Yes, some want to go back to banning books.) 

Go back on America’s leadership in the world. 

Go back on our promises to Ukraine. 

Turn their backs on democracy itself, revolting against fair and lawful election results, in favor of an ironically aged and feeble strongman who promises to return you and me to the Promised Land. 

There’s no doubt we live in emotionally and socially challenging times. Technological, financial, employment, social change is happening mind-bogglingly fast. Some can’t cope with the change, some are afraid of the change, some fight against the change. Their response is to hit the brakes, shove the car in reverse, and try to find a spot to park back in time, when things felt more familiar. 

The problem with “backwards” is that it precludes all the good that comes from going forward. Yes, maybe we can turn back clocks and pretend to live in the 1930s or 1910s or 1950s, but that’s make believe, and we’re fooling ourselves. While these folks would have America dither and slide backward, the rest of the planet, save Russia, has little taste for such backwardness, and instead looks for ways to improve life and prospects for their people. Some nations actively embrace forward change, while we waste time, flirting with the past. 

Then, we’ve got folks stuck in neutral. This is where many or most of us have stuck our personal transmissions. We know backward is a dead end; but change is scary and it’s almost comforting to deal with the same issues over and again, without solving them and moving ahead. 

Homelessness. We’re still stuck in neutral after having spent tens of billions of hard-working Californian tax dollars. We’ve thrown money everywhere, building giant homeless-industrial complex overheads, without much to show for it. We relive this giant problem, over and over. 

We’re stuck going nowhere on crime. All around us property crimes are increasing and increasingly tolerated. We’ve got so much wringing of hands, but we remain short-staffed with sheriffs, and we’re still fighting against our DA. Let’s see how the election turned out, but my gut says we sadly continue with more of the same. 

We’re stuck on water planning for the state. Still no Delta tunnel, but a lot of talk. We’re stuck on transportation. Still building a “bullet train to nowhere,” and it’s likely that many readers will never live to see that train run. 

Stuck in neutral means we haven’t had the willpower, discipline, or guts to move the chains forward on these important issues of our day. Too many vested interests. Too many constituents to kowtow to. Little wonder some Americans would prefer a strongman over democracy. Our democracy can be so slow, inefficient and frustrating. 

And finally, we have Americans firmly pushing to Drive forward.  

Enhanced women’s rights. 

Restoration of voting protection laws. 

Protecting America’s standing in the world. 

Encouraging renewables and building a greener infrastructure. 

Expanding health care to be considered a basic human right, as it is in all other developed countries. 

Harnessing and managing artificial intelligence for the betterment of American life. 

Considering all the change we’re facing, and all the existing problems from “stuck in neutral,” some simply want to retreat into the past. The past feels safer, it feels familiar. Like an old sweater and well-worn shoes, the past feels … comfortable. 

But progress, leadership and meeting the demands of the present has never been easy. That’s why there’s leading nations and struggling nations. What is our social will for real progress? 

Some embrace the future and build for it. Others are lost in the past of disproven concepts, failed beliefs and bygone days of yore. 

We just chose small parts of our future path yesterday. We’ll get an even bigger choice come November. You and I live at a most pivotal point.  

Do we stick ourselves in (R) Reverse, (N) more of the same, or (D) Drive forward?

Gary Horton’s “Full Speed to Port!” has appeared in The Signal since 2006. The opinions expressed in his column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Signal or its editorial board.

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