It’s a dark time in America.
This year, the holiday season comes at a time when our country is in distress. The federal government faces a constitutional crisis following the impeachment of the president. Though, at least the government is not shut down, unlike last Christmas.
But our leaders have failed to provide much-needed relief to the far too many families who are struggling with poverty, low incomes and a rising cost of living. How many kids did not receive a holiday present this year because of the recent roll back of food stamps and Social Security disability benefits?
American despair is so pronounced that after six decades of increase, life expectancy of Americans has declined for three consecutive years. Behind the trend is the increase in drug overdose, suicides and alcoholic liver disease.
Our region is not immune to despair. Philadelphia lost more than 1,100 people to drug overdose in 2018 and, according to preliminary estimates, is on track to lose as many in 2019. Both Pennsylvania and New Jersey have experienced an increase in suicides in 2019, including high-profile student suicides on college campuses.
For the region, added to suicides and drug overdoses is the trauma of gun violence. In Philadelphia, a child or teenager was shot on average every four days throughout this year. Across the river in New Jersey, a month after a 10-year-old was shot and killed in a crowded football game, gunmen opened fire in a Jewish market in Jersey City killing four — a massacre motivated by hate.
It’s a dark time in America.
We must find a way to bring in the light.
In a time of hate, divisiveness and vulnerability for many Americans, turning the tide requires a commitment from as many individuals as possible to push back against these dark forces in their daily actions — and to share a sense of responsibility for one another.
The term “personal responsibility” has gotten a bad reputation. For decades, it has been used politically to maintain an image of an American dream in which every American has a chance to grow wealthy and climb on the ladder of socioeconomic mobility if only they work hard. We know that that’s not true.
The personal responsibility that will outshine the darkness of these bleak days is the one that President John F. Kennedy was referring to in his inaugural address when he implored Americans to ask not what their country can do for them, but what they can do for their country. Then, and now, the focus needs to be a commitment to community.
“Tolerance and acceptance are among our founding values, and diversity is one of Philadelphia’s greatest strengths,” Mayor Jim Kenney said in a statement accompanying a letter to the Trump administration expressing the city’s consent to accept refugees.
Tolerance and acceptance are not substitutes to good policy and investment by government, but these two types of actions — by individuals and by institutions — are not mutually exclusive. If everyone works to embody the values that Philadelphia expresses publicly, we can together be the light that pierces through the darkness — not only during the holiday season but throughout the year.