The voting results came in recently for the Baseball Hall of Fame.  Six players received the requisite 75% of the votes necessary to be inducted, led by Mariano Rivera, the New York Yankees renown relief pitcher, who was nominated on every ballot.  Every eligible voter in the Baseball Writers Association of America voted for Rivera, the only player ever to receive that distinction.  To put this in perspective, not even Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, or Willie Mays received 100% of the ballots.   Derek Jeter, when he is eligible in 2020, may equal this amazing fete, but so far, Mariano is on a pedestal all by himself.       

The Baseball Hall of Fame may be only a small microcosm of our country, but I am encouraged by the unanimous selection of Rivera, even though I am not a Yankees’ fan.  Let me try to explain.  100% of the votes means that it is possible for our country to reach unanimous agreement on something.  Think that is a stretch?  Well, you may be right, but based on how things are going, don’t we need some sign that unity is possible should a particular cause or individual be deserving?  If we do, what might be an effective, unifying cause?  The first obvious choice would be a major military conflict or attack, like 9/11.  No sane person wants that, so what else could bring the country together?  I haven’t a clue.  And this worries me, because remaining polarized, as we clearly are today, is likely to be harmful to the next generation.  Apart, we have very little chance to solve any of the major challenges our country faces. 

Nevertheless, I remain hopeful that our country will one day produce an extraordinary, unifying leader.  I don’t think that individual has been identified, but he or she is out there somewhere.  In the meantime, we are certainly struggling on several fronts.  Let’s look at a few…

We are struggling to determine how much in taxes people should pay.  Specifically, how much of our ordinary income, investment income, wealth, and inheritance should go to the government for them to spend as they see fit?  One side is arguing for higher taxes, at least for some people, while the other side argues for lower taxes for individuals and corporations.

Most of the developed world is facing difficult demographic challenges from aging populations.  What are the best means to provide quality AND affordable health care for all people?  What is the optimal balance between the private sector and government resources related to health care, insurance, and future innovation?  There are many opposing viewpoints and no simple solutions.  

As I have written about many times before, we are struggling to determine how much control over our economy and culture we want to cede to the government.  Some people seem to trust government regulation and politicians more than “Big Business.”  Others have little faith in either. 

At the same time, intertwined in all these endless debates, is the omnipresence of social media.  Facebook, Twitter, and 24/7 talking heads on television, produce an endless flow of stories, opinions, facts, misstatements, outright lies, explanations, and agendas.  Our entire country seems trapped by this ever-growing, unrestrained addiction to being “connected” to someone, somehow, at all times.  Unfortunately, it is this instantaneous connectiveness that keeps us polarized and untrusting of anything we don’t particularly like.

Now, there are certainly aspects of social media that are fun, relatively harmless, and help people to interact, but at the same time, it is too often misused, becoming a hindrance to meaningful dialogue, as well as deep, respectful understanding and compromise.

So, where does this leave us as we roll into the New Year?  Like it or not, politics is going to dominate public discourse throughout the year as both sides are already in all-out battle mode for the 2020 elections.  This disconcerting outlook was encapsulated by a very interesting question recently posed to me – How can the stock market be up so much so soon (10% year to date) in the context of all the political craziness on both sides?  The stock market always looks ahead.  It does so because of the innate hopefulness that is a cornerstone of our country.  The steadfast belief that we can do better, we can be better, as individuals and as a nation.  Despite all our past faults, current challenges, temptations and frailties, there is always hope of a better future.  That is why good people all over the country get up every morning and do the best they can to be the best they can.

Endless debate for more government or less government, higher taxes or lower taxes, socialism or capitalism, will certainly impact our country in profound ways.  There is no denying the enormous gap between the various proposals advocated by candidates from all sides.  Ultimately, we will all be impacted by which political direction the country decides is the right way to go.  But, even if we stray too far in the wrong direction, we will eventually regain our bearings and move back in the right direction.  Driven by hopefulness, which never dies in our country, we adapt and persevere.    

Thanks be to God.

Michael Kayes, CFA