At the end of the 20th century, Bill Clinton talked about building a bridge to the 21st century, but since we arrived in the 21st century, it seems like we’ve been building a bridge back to the 14th century, with a rise in religious fundamentalism, pandemics and wars, and the existential threat of manmade climate change.
The U.S.A. I knew as a kid (growing up in England) believed in progress, of moving forward, implementing bold projects both social and scientific. My grandmother was born in 1887, during the horse-drawn carriage era, and in her lifetime she saw the advent of the motor car, the airplane, radio, TV, and computers; most of them were invented and popularized in America. She was alive in 1927 when Lindbergh became the first to fly solo across the Atlantic; and in 1969, 42 years later, she witnessed Armstrong walk on the moon.
The U.S. seemed to be a place where anything was possible, a place where scientists, engineers, doctors lead the way and were held up as heroes. Henry Ford created a car that all could afford, and America went on to produce cars and products that were the envy of the world. Out of the Great Depression FDR created Social Security to help provide for and protect the poor; in World War II he commandeered automobile production lines and factories to build thousands of planes and tanks to defeat the Nazis and the Japanese. Following the war, Truman instigated the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe. In the 1950s, Eisenhower built the freeway system. Suddenly people could go places they’d never been before, such as national parks, another great bold American creation.
To pay for it all the top marginal tax rate for the wealthy was 90 percent. Although, they didn’t like it, the wealthy survived just fine and a middle class was created with a higher standard of living than ever before. New inventions such as the flush toilet, the vacuum cleaner, the refrigerator, air conditioning, and the automatic dishwasher made our lives easier. Great advances were made in medicine and dentistry; vaccines arrived to eliminate smallpox, polio, TB, and other deadly diseases. LBJ created Medicare for the benefit of senior citizens, signed the civil rights act. Even Nixon created the EPA to protect our water, air and food.
Of course, these are all the positives. I realize there were many negatives to the 20th century — Hitler, Stalin, and Mao to name but three; and if you were black or a woman, America was not such a great place to be, but that’s not the point of this essay.
Somewhere along the way we lost the big picture. Now, it seems more people in the U.S.A. believe in angels than believe in science.
Things began to go radically wrong on September 11, 2001, when 11 non-Iraqi opportunists armed only with cunning minds, box cutters, and credit cards brought the world’s most powerful nation to its knees. The Saudis, the perpetrators of the attack, were allowed to go free, and the U.S. people were lied into invading a country that had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks. leaving hundreds of thousands dead, and the U.S. $3 trillion in debt.
Then, in 2008, the banks crashed the system and caused the Great Recession. Instead of putting the banksters on trial and locking them up, greed held sway. The government, in collusion with Wall Street, rewarded the banksters by bailing them out with taxpayers’ money. A new age of austerity ensued; people lost their homes and their jobs through no fault of their own.
Faith in government as a servant of the people ebbed away as the needs of the middle and working class were not met, leading to the election of our latest incarnation of a president. I won’t mention his name because he gets far too much free publicity. He came to power under the banner of being a businessman not a politician. It turns out he was neither. It’s not all his fault, he’s just a pimple on a festering boil.
Now, in the middle of a pandemic, the administration again bailed out its wealthy donors, such as cruise lines and airlines, which instead of putting money aside for a rainy day to keep their staff employed, used that money to buy back stock and enrich their shareholders.
There has always been a streak of anti-intellectualism in this country: “My ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.” But, now is not the time for that baloney; it’s time for a great vision for the future. We need to find leaders like we had in the past to take bold moves to carry this country forward again otherwise like the Roman Empire and the British Empire, the U.S. empire will go bankrupt bailing out banks, crony capitalists, and fighting wars for what little oil is left around the world.
Let’s reboot an American tradition of thinking big, thinking outside the box, and put people to work rebuilding the crumbling infrastructure of this country, incorporating a green new deal switching our energy sources from finite coal and oil to clean renewable solar, wind, and geothermal energy.
More than two decades ago scientists cured the hole in the ozone layer when it was discovered that chemical fluorocarbons emitted by aerosol sprays, air conditioning units, and refrigerators were causing it. A global response banned those CFCs and the ozone hole was repaired. For decades, scientists have warned of pandemics and the greatest existential threat to our lives on this planet, manmade climate change. We can solve that problem like we have solved other major problems in the past. We know what to do. But a complicit media, and lobby groups sponsored by the fossil fuel industry hire fancy lawyers to deny the scientific consensus — the same lawyers hired by the tobacco industry that told us smoking is good for you, that lead in the water improves the flavor, that pesticides on your crops will do you no harm, and asbestos in your buildings is not a problem.
Manmade climate change is not a left or right issue. It’s a life or death issue. And if C)2 were pink there’d be no arguing. Doesn’t everyone want clean, unpolluted air, fresh water to drink, plastic-free oceans, chemical-free foods? It’s unconscionable to think otherwise. If there is a silver lining to the pandemic, it’s showing us a vision of the world as it could be without fossil fuels. The birds and animals are returning to our gardens, the pollution suffocating our cities is melting away before our eyes due to the lack of aircraft, and vehicular traffic. My 100-year-old mother back in England tells me that even the nightingales are returning to the woods.
Let’s get moving America. Let’s get on with it. Let’s not screw up the rest of the 21st century because if we do there won’t be a 22nd century. We only have one planet, and I for one don’t want to live on Mars with Elon Musk.