Infrastructure has been and will continue to be a debated issue as the presidential campaign evolves toward 2016. Our parents and grandparents know and witnessed a great infrastructure renaissance both during the depression and after World War II. It was the Republican President Eisenhower who led the charge in building our highways in the 1950s to move people and goods more efficiently. In the years between 1932-1960, building dams, bridges, and highways was not a polarizing issue. Quite the opposite. It was a bipartisan effort to modernize the United States and provide employment for many workers who did not have a college education. When a young and charismatic President John F. Kennedy proclaimed, “We choose to go to the moon,” our confidence as a nation was never higher. We could build anything.
Now in the 21st century our structure crumbles with the same force of the edifice of cynicism that rises in our ethos. In the space of two weeks, we saw a grotesque oil spill from an outdated pipe on our Central Coast and an Amtrak train crash killing and injuring commuters who depend on rail transportation. In 2013 the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the infrastructure of the United States a grade of D+. The engineers’ recommendation was a need to spend $3.6 trillion to bring America’s roads and bridges and electric grid up to 21st-century standards. That $3.6 trillion could have been available had the Bush administration not entered into war with Iraq in 2003. Instead of a waste of American and Iraqi lives and trillions of dollars that our country has nothing to show for, our infrastructure could have been a model to the world as it was in the 20th century.
President Obama has implored a Republican Congress to support infrastructure bills to repair or replace our outdated and low-performing structural capacity, and to provide opportunity for those unemployed after the Great Recession to find work. As with most of the president’s initiatives, the GOP has built a wall of non-cooperation.
One need only turn the pages of history to see that the great empires of the past rose to prominence by devoting investment and labor into building an infrastructure that was the envy of their time. Wise rulers knew that this not only brought prestige to their nation but brought work for their citizens. This had a positive effect not only on their country’s economy but gave their people the employment that helps to keep domestic peace.
In today’s era, a Congress dominated by Citizen’s United donations do not look to their constituents’ best interest but mostly to their financial backers’. And large corporations must share the blame with government for curtailing the modernization of structures used to move fossil fuels by pipelines or pump oil from the floors of the ocean; these failures have resulted in deleterious effects people and wildlife. There is an unfortunate mindset that investing in safety only lowers the bottom line, and if the risk factor increases, there are no real consequences to fear.
In a complaint filed December 17, 2014, in Harris County, Texas, families alleged that DuPont was negligent or grossly negligent in its maintenance of a plant in which four workers died after an alleged faulty valve released chemicals that, when mixed with oxygen, create a toxic gas. The cry was to throw the book at DuPont, a $60 billion company. The financial penalty imposed on DuPont was less than $100,000.
In 2015, whether we drive on dilapidated bridges and highways or work for large companies that despise regulation, corporations have the leverage to prevent lawsuits from having a real impact on their criminal behavior.
A country that listens to talking heads that state our nation is the greatest on earth should look down to the “feet of clay.” That’s what will resound as our legacy.