Author: Dylan Etzel, Johns Hopkins University ____________________________________________________________________________________
As we enjoy our Thanksgiving break, many of our relatives will ask us, “What are you thankful for?” In the context of politics, however, this question often goes awry, as the mainstream media and general word of mouth may lead us to believe that the answer is, “Not a whole lot.” The ISIS threat in the Middle East, a Congress and a President at odds, and even Ebola have received much more attention than the groundbreaking positive changes that have occurred this year – and are occurring as we sit with our loved ones and wolf down turkeys (or other foods of choice).
Americans believe that they have no reason to be thankful for our government. As Gallup’s polling data highlights, only 30 percent of those polled are highly confident in the president, 29 percent are confident in the Supreme Court, and a record-low of 7 percent are confident in Congress. Although being thankful for democracy is undoubtedly a widespread sentiment, many Americans have become disenchanted with elected officials because they believe that the government is no longer democratic or efficient. Even those who voted for the GOP in the midterms admit that until the 2016 presidential elections, real political change will be stymied. However, one should not let this disillusionment overshadow the recent accomplishments of our state.
Though the lack of productivity of the 113th Congress is well documented, the Supreme Court has been active this year. The importance of Riley vs. California cannot be understated: the ruling mandated that law enforcement obtain search warrants before accessing the cell phones of suspects and implies that the Supreme Court will protect the digital information of individuals. Given the past fear that government is invading personal privacy (the prime example being the NSA’s domestic surveillance program) the American public can – and should – be thankful for the Court’s recognition of digital privacy. The Supreme Court has also repeatedly ruled against attempted gay marriage bans in states such South Carolina and Kansas. Finally, even though the new Republican Congress has decried Obama’s intent to use executive orders, both Democrats and Republicans can be thankful that the Supreme Court will remain the fair arbiter of these actions contrary to sporadic media fears of Obama’s potentially unconstitutional orders.
The President has effected positive changes, too, especially in the arena of climate change policy. The recent deal with China has been criticized and exalted ad nauseam, but the message is clear: China, the greatest threat to the emissions control regime, is willing to negotiate and accept unfavorable terms. China and India, the two most populous countries in the world, demand high levels of coal, and therefore produce massive amounts of carbon emissions. If the President can successfully tie these two countries into official climate change pacts, not only will environmentalism gain international legitimacy but the progress will also inspire future deals. Negotiating a deal with China is an important first step in this process. The president’s attention to climate change is especially important because many of the recently-elected Republicans deny climate change. Despite whatever popular social platforms the Congress-elect maintains, the International Energy Agency has officially concluded that coal and unclean fuel sources negatively impact global climate change. Those who fear that the midterm elections spell climatological catastrophe can be thankful for the President’s attentiveness to the issue.
Paul Krugman’s recent article in Rolling Stone Magazine labels the Obama presidency an economic success, but we should also be thankful for the state of the global economy. According to an article in Businessweek by Joseph Cioli, signs of a global economic recovery are emerging: confidence in the S&P 500 is reaching record levels, and investors are preparing to flock to European stocks in 2015. This contradicts all of the mainstream media’s messages, which are focusing on British Prime Minister David Cameron’s comments about “red warning lights,” such as the concerns that have risen over the slowing of China’s growth and recessions in Japan and Europe. England’s economy is expanding. Mario Draghi of the European Central Bank (ECB) has pledged an increase in stimulus funds, which would increase confidence in Asian and European stocks. The recovery of these markets is integral to the US’s own sustainable growth, so if Draghi’s actions lead to real change, the world economy may stabilize overall.
This year, we have the President, the Supreme Court, China, and the European Central Bank to be thankful for. Despite numerous accusations of having the “least productive Congress ever,” the United States can thank its president for his efforts in foreign policy. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of progressive changes this year, China came to the table for emissions negotiations and the the ECB’s stimulus may give the European Union the push it needs. This Thanksgiving, we should momentarily forget about ISIS, Ebola, and if possible even Ferguson, to focus on 2014’s accomplishments. The year hasn’t been all bad.