MeredithMay2017

Susan Estrich - Happy, healthy & safe

  • Published in Columns

The holidays are never easy for anyone except the Hallmark family, but this year seemed especially disquieting: Donald Trump acts like he's still playing bully in some schoolyard somewhere; fingers of blame point in all directions in both parties; and it's a dangerous world that is impossible to ignore. My son made me watch a documentary produced by Vice News about the Islamic State; terrifying doesn't begin to describe it. And Trump only needs one intelligence briefing a week. While 9-year-olds waving swords at a training camp where they've gone to learn to divide America in half.

"Security" was my mantra in my more active days in politics. That's what people want, I would argue to my liberal friends; that's what government exists to provide. Social security isn't just a good name; it's the lifeboat aging Americans cling to. Personal security used to be about crime and disorder; we used to just fight about racism and police abuse (as if we've solved that); now we have terrorism and counterterrorism tactics to add to the list. Do you feel more secure with Donald Trump coming in as president? Who feels secure, anyway? What about economic security? I don't know anyone who thinks government can provide it, but the empty malls in my neighborhood suggest that either online shopping has won the war (even if virtually every item I ordered was late) or that whatever the pollsters may say, things are not so golden even here in the Golden State.

"Happy New Year," we say to each other. "Healthy," I usually put that first: "A healthy and happy New Year." And safe, I'll add now. My friend told me it comes from an ancient Hawaiian prayer: "Be happy. Be healthy. Be safe. And thank you." Not necessarily in that order, it has become my mantra for life in the 21st century. We look to government to help us be healthy and safe. Which is to say, we look to ourselves.

"Government" used to be the bogeyman in the liberal-conservative debate because it was the symbol of capital-D Democrat excess: tax and spend, supposedly wasteful policies and lazy bureaucrats who, over the years, turned out not to account for nearly as much waste and abuse as would-be presidents would claim to be able to cut.

But "government" today, to the new generation, has taken on an even more sinister connotation, and for less of a reason. Government has become the overreaching Big Brother, the enemy in its fight against the real enemy. There is something very scary about the willingness of young people to share their most intimate information with mammoth companies who will use it to invade their privacy and sell them things they don't want, but recoil at the idea that the information might be provided to the government — to them, whoever they are — in order to protect us from planes falling from the sky or bombs exploding in nightclubs.

Are we really more worried about the State Department than ISIS? Not me. Not under any American president.

Can it really be that 2016 was the year that the specter of the Russians' hacking into our electoral system and trying to influence the results has actually became a punchline? Really — Vladimir Putin jokes about the 2016 election? Is there any version of reality in which they are actually funny?

I did not mean to leave my children such a scary world. I fell in love with politics not only because I wanted to "help people" — the old-fashioned romantic goal — but also because I believed in the power of people to come together and coexist under the rule of law, because I believed in human rights, because I wanted the United States to be a force for good in the world. You have to be almost my age to remember that romantic notion. So, out with the old.

But what's next? Will these be the good old days that someday we will look back on longingly? Be healthy. Be happy. Be safe. And thank you.

(Susan Estrich is a professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California Law Center. A best-selling author, lawyer and politician, as well as a teacher, she first gained national prominence as national campaign manager for Dukakis for President in 1988.)