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CV Commentary: Stating The Obvious - 2020 Has Been A Heck Of A Year

Robert Smith headshot
Robert Smith

The following is a commentary from Dr. Robert Smith, Dean of the College of Public Affairs and Administration at the University of Illinois Springfield.  

The Presidential election is over and the race for President is behind us…I think it is!?

One event down…and maybe with a sigh of relief…one way or the other!!

But in the meantime our COVID 19 epidemic seems to hang on and may be getting worse and the public health emergency will likely continue to impact education, the economy and our personal lives. Hence, our lives continue in limbo as we head into the hectic pace of year-end activities and holiday celebrations. There seems to be no end in sight.

Those of us in Public Affairs (professors, practitioners, public officials, students and keen observers) are always trying to learn from previous events and past decisions and try to predict or forecast the future to some extent. The goal is to take those lessons and learn and do better the next time around. At least we try in a public policy context.

With the onslaught of negative news, contentious politics, economic disruption, racial tensions, and personal struggles we are all looking for relief, a pause, a respite or a plan to break out of this cycle. But it may, nonetheless, continue for a bit longer.

That provides me the basis to try to offer a look ahead. It is not an exercise in wishful thinking, but it is a pathway for thinking about where we are headed in the near future. This is not meant to take away from the very real hardships and tragedy and disruptions in our lives today, but it may give us a hope for a future after COVID 19.

So despite the negativity that faces us today, and maybe the hope that our new President can solve our epidemic and related issues, I offer some “revelations” within or surrounding the crisis that may better position us for the future? I think there are a few to mention:

  1. A fundamental recognition that politics and elections matter, or more precisely who we have in positions of power at the local, state and national levels matter.
  2. That government (like it or not) must play a central role in addressing major crises we face in the nation.
  3. That issues that affect us in Texas are also the same in New York or Illinois.
  4. That every life is valuable.
  5. Health care and emergency care is not a privilege but a right (we can work out the details and who pays as long as that is the starting point)
  6. Social and other inequities exist, and this is as good as time as any to finally face those issues.
  7. The economy is the fabric for all citizens and we must achieve a balance between success possible under market forces and the public good that must accommodate both. One does not outweigh the other.
  8. Law enforcement needs a reboot, but so do our expectations and acknowledgement of the difficult environment in which they work.
  9. The environment is not some unseen or future-oriented mystery we don’t understand. It sustains us, we breathe it, and drink it every single day and it requires a fix now.
  10. America is a world power and we must act like one. It needs to forge a world agenda and build smart partnerships but not “give away the store” as we do that.
  11. Journalism (in all its forms) must be “in our faces” whether we like it or not. It has a responsibility to report on the good, the bad and the ugly. And it is our obligation to listen.
  12. That taking care of the elderly, the disadvantaged, the young, the poor and the sick is not someone else’s job, it is a little part of everyone’s job.
  13. Individual rights matter, but government has a responsibility to set up some lanes and stop lights.
  14. Travel to space, the moon and mars and beyond is within our grasp and opens our eyes to the heavens and the next steps for humanity itself.
  15. We are all connected technologically as a nation (and to the world) and each other. Information, data, e-commerce and e-learning are expanding as never before. And we’re learning to do even better every day.

There are probably a lot more “revelations” to mention and perhaps some of you will not even agree with these. And maybe you’re right?

But the reason these revelations are notable is because these are not either or propositions. They are all achievable (and many at the same time). How? This is what public policy is all about. Those disciplines defined by their public affairs missions can provide solutions and future pathways now. The ability to work with and across other disciplines equally exists. These possibilities represented by items in the list I just went through are within our grasp to embrace, achieve, expand or take advantage of. Sure, there are still a lot of problems in society, and it’s difficult to see the positive when we are in a hectic and uncertain place and time.

In this context, those of us who embrace the value of public affairs, the public service and public policy have a special responsibility to “push the envelope” now more than ever and see the positive, the way forward, the path ahead, and promise of what’s next in 2021 and beyond.

Let’s hang in there together…COVID will be behind us at some point…but don’t abandon the hope for the future in the meantime. Instead let’s prepare now, mobilize now, plan ahead and develop policies that can deliver on these “revelations.” Let’s never be in limbo ever again.

Please stay healthy and stay safe,

Dean Smith

Robert Smith is a host for NPR's Planet Money where he tells stories about how the global economy is affecting our lives.
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