Cities, not rhetoric, making America great by embracing change
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In these rapidly changing times, there is a tendency for political demagogues to capitalize on fear — blame immigrants or the “other” — in order to harness support for policies that will deepen, rather than solve the very real problems at hand. 

There are fundamental shifts happening in society. The nature of work and the allocation of resources has changed. Real wages have declined or stagnated for most workers since 1979, while those at the top of the income-pyramid have seen tremendous gain

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While overall gains have mostly gone to top-earners, there is a persistent gap between productivity and pay that is contributing to the decline in labor’s share of income, both in the United States and globally. This trend has only accelerated since the Great Recession, when companies cut back on employment and invested in labor saving capital. This is the problem we collectively face.

With the confluence of social, economic, and technological shifts happening in rapid succession, a disruptive environment is inevitable. What is not inevitable is the need to play to people’s worst fears rather than their fundamental hopes and dreams.

This is, however the current state of our presidential race, as even Republicans increasingly question their standard bearer for president, Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpShocking summit with Putin caps off Trump’s turbulent Europe trip GOP lambasts Trump over performance in Helsinki Trump stuns the world at Putin summit MORE, for many of his policy positions.

Just taking one of these — it's worth noting that the time hearkened back to in his slogan "make America great again" cannot be re-created. The fundamental economic shifts in society to a highly automated service economy are not new, although they are accelerating.  

We are Americans, and we don't go backwards; we move forward. We expand opportunity we don’t constrict it. Even if we somehow miraculously could bring back the economic success of a now faded era, this amazing time in America did not exist for all people in our country. 

America (and much of the world) has seen white men at the pinnacle of power for centuries — but minorities, women, working class populations, the LGBTQ community, and others that were not included in the narrative arc of America would beg to differ that times past are those that we should re-create.

In recent decades, city leaders have increasingly become the champions of the future, and this future is one of inclusion and prosperity. Leaders at the local level aren’t building walls, they are tearing them down. In cities, we know that a diverse and representative society is an economically competitive society.

Yet, vast economic changes are creating a true rift that needs to be sewn back together. The dual reality of growth at the upper end of the income spectrum and stagnation and loss at the bottom is critical — especially during this presidential election year. 

This election, voters are tasked with finding the candidate who will deal with the issues our communities care about. If candidates are looking to see what voters care about, they need to look no farther than our nation’s cities.

In cities, ideas move from the ground up, with community input one of the most valuable commodities that we have. A wide variety of voices are listened to, and while people get angry, and even yell and scream at times, it is not reflective of the perpetual anger and angst that we see in national politics. 

Every year, the National League of Cities does an analysis of mayoral state of the city addresses to see what matters to cities. Consistently bread and butter issues — economic development, public safety, and infrastructure — receive top billing.

Just as we see at the national level, where 45% of the public says the economy is the number one issue that they care about, mayors are laser focused on this issue. 75% of mayors focused on the economy in their addresses, doing what leaders should do and being responsive to the public.

These are the issues that voters care about and want action on now. Even with federal inaction as the common refrain, and states throwing up barriers at every turn, local leaders are moving forward on economic policies that impact citizens — on everything from local minimum wage laws to paid leave, to environmental protections, and more. 

At the local level, accountability isn’t just a campaign stump speech — if you don’t produce results, the consequences hit your doorstep. The garbage has to be picked up and potholes need to be filled, and city leaders get it all done.

Mayors are working hard to create solutions at home. City leaders aren’t trying to come up with the philosophical underpinnings of whether or not we should move forward. Cities move forward. 

Let’s stop hoping that we can recapture what once was and instead capture something still yet to be, something that all of us can build together. The inescapable truth is — the world has changed. We need leaders that recognize this fact, face it, and make policies with this true economic reality in mind.

Clarence Anthony is Executive Director of the National League of Cities (NLC) and Brooks Rainwater is Senior Executive and Director at the NLC’s Center for City Solutions

The views expressed by Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.