9.) Unity when it matters:
While most of the news is bad, there is still one reason for optimism. Winston Churchill once said that “Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing after they have exhausted all other options.” That sentiment can be applied to most of the world. Most of the seven billion people on planet Earth are good people who possess human empathy. While we are individual nations with individual needs, some occurrences are so universal that they do truly bring most of us together.
The beginning of this decade saw a world in chaos.
The world was still reeling from the 2008 financial crisis. Worldwide terrorism was still a threat. The world was starving for good news, and we got it.
The Chilean mine rescue was the ultimate feel-good story. Not since Sully Sullenberger prevented a plane crash in early 2009 were people so glued to such a positive outcome. Thirty-three Chilean miners in 2010 were trapped underground for 69 days.
The President of Chile oversaw a dramatic rescue that required precision, luck, and worldwide help. One billion people watched the rescue on television. Nations all over the world sent help in the form of equipment, technology, and manpower.
The second miner rescued pumped his fist in the air and began chanting the Chilean national anthem. We all cheered along. While it would be overstating things to say that the world was rescued that day, it was an important win for humankind. We were desperate for good news, and those 33 miners inspired us with their courage and fortitude. The chips were down, and we all dug deep, put aside our conflicts, and came together for a common good. For two days, we were all Chileans, and global human beings.
Acts of man can be prevented. Acts of God leave us at his mercy.
For four days in 2017, Hurricane Harvey leveled Houston. Hurricane Irma slammed Florida. Hurricane Maria destroyed Puerto Rico. NAPA fires left hundreds of homes incinerated and left a trail of smoke from San Francisco to surrounding areas near and far.
Los Angeles fires raged for days before being contained as the Thomas Fire became the largest fire in recorded California history.
From Santa Barbara to rich and poor Los Angeles areas alike, there was no reprieve. Tales of heartbreak were many, and acts of heroism were also prevalent.
Houston Texans star J.J. Watt raised over $50 million for hurricane relief.
Ordinary people risked their own lives and rescued people from burning buildings and flooding waters.
People of all races and creeds showed that when times are at their toughest, Americans are at their best. Despite attempts to divide us, we unite in practicing love thy neighbor by rescuing complete strangers.
These natural disasters were horrendous, but they brought out the best in Americans.
Unlike other aspects of our society, natural disasters remained apolitical. While there absolutely were attempts to politicize these tragedies, thankfully those efforts largely failed. Even politicians who attacked each other over everything else immediately put aside hostilities to coordinate relief efforts at the federal, state and local levels.
The 2005 Hurricane Katrina effort is seen, fairly or not, as a failure to help people when they needed it most. Bipartisan efforts have been made to ensure that this failure is never repeated.
Natural disasters are a major disaster, but the even bigger story is how people all across the world put aside their deepest divisions to save lives of complete strangers in places they have never been. The human experiment has not failed.
8.) SCOTUS and lower courts respected
Many of America’s institutions collapsed in this decade, but two of them remain almost universally respected. One of them is America’s judiciary. America survived some major rulings in the 2010s.
The Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling in favor of gay marriage was the biggest social policy decision since Roe vs Wade legalized abortion in 1973.
While plenty of people oppose gay marriage, times are changing. The younger generation is overwhelmingly in favor of it only a decade after the overall mood was against it.
The issue is not whether gay marriage is an abomination or a cause for celebration. This is not about equality or religion, but codified law. The next major issue in the culture wars deals with whether gay couples can force religious institutions to perform ceremonies that violate their own doctrines. The original gay marriage debate was a powder keg. This new dispute is the cultural equivalent of nuclear Armageddon. Yet what is truly amazing is how many people heard the High Court’s decision and just shrugged.
The Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, dividing America.
The entire decade was spent on this law, with twists and turns from beginning to end. The ACA was signed into law in 2010. In the Summer of 2012, the ACA was struck down in part but largely upheld. The heart of the law was the individual mandate. Americans were being ordered under the law to purchase a product, in this case, healthcare.
It was the first time that judges were being asked to rule if Americans could be subjected to sanctions for inaction rather than action.
Opponents of the ACA wanted the individual mandate to be separated from the rest of the law, but the Obama administration argued that the mandate could not be separated from the law. It was a risky legal gamble. The SCOTUS ruled the ACA unconstitutional under the Commerce Clause, but it was upheld as Constitutional under the government’s power to tax.
The government itself insisted that the penalty for non-compliance was not a tax, but the High Court ignored the executive and legislative branches and insisted that it was.
This compromise was fashioned by Chief Justice John Roberts, who was desperate to find a way to uphold the law. His reasoning was that the legislature and the executive created this mess, and it was their responsibility to clean it up. Roberts, in essence, upheld a long-standing SCOTUS tradition of “deciding not to decide.”
The tide turned when President Donald Trump succeeded President Barack Obama.
Trump immediately announced that his Justice Department would not enforce the penalty for non-compliance with the individual mandate. The IRS was ordered to stop enforcing the penalty. The final blow came in 2017 when Congress passed and Trump signed into the law the most sweeping tax reform legislation since 1986.
Included in that law was the repeal of the tax penalty for the individual mandate, effective January 1 of 2018.
This effectively repealed the ACA mandate itself.
The overall ACA was still on the books, but the heart and guts of the law had been repealed. This led to new challenges to the remains of the law in the lower courts. Opponents of the ACA argued that since the tax no longer existed, the entire law itself was now unconstitutional. A federal judge accepted this argument and struck the law down in its entirety.
On December 18 of 2019, The 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals agreed with the lower court and declared Obamacare wholly unconstitutional. The Supreme Court has not said whether they will take the case. If they decline to hear the case, the ACA is forever dead. If they decide to hear it, the battle continues.
So why does the ACA argument matter?
It matters because it is not about one issue or one ruling or even a series of rulings. It is not about healthcare, gay marriage, or even abortion. What matters most is the reaction.
The Supreme Court has legitimacy because the American people accept that legitimacy. People from ordinary citizens to presidents of both parties fume when judges rule against them. Both sides rail against judges who disagree with them. Then comes a healthy phenomenon that Americans should never take for granted. The losing side goes through the five stages of grief and does reach the final stage of acceptance.
In 1832, Supreme Court Justice John Marshall issued a ruling that angered the president. President Andrew Jackson reportedly responded, “John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it!”
This does not happen anymore. American presidents do not use the military to arrest judges. American presidents do not have judges killed.
In this decade, two presidents of two different parties issued angry denunciations either at press conferences, on social media, or in fiery letters. Then both presidents vowed to appeal.
When all appeals were exhausted and presidents were still on the losing side, they grumbled and then meekly complied with the rulings. This is exactly what should occur.
Even when Americans complain about judicial activism, there is no serious thought about defying our judges.
Right now a major scandal is brewing involving secret courts known as FISA courts. Allegations are swirling that members of our intelligence community lied to these FISA judges for the purpose of obtaining warrants to spy on American citizens.
If these allegations turn out to be credible, the people who lied to the FISA judges could face jail time. Lying to judges is a felony, and most Americans understand the sacred role that courts play in upholding the rule of law.
The 2010s was a decade where the judicial branch faced some of the most divisive cases in history and came out with their collective reputations as strong as ever. The trust still exists.