The analytical side of my brain cannot comprehend why no one in Washington cannot see the clear path to curing so many of our nation’s domestic ills: infrastructure. All one must do is look at the vast network of the nation’s highways, the brilliance and beauty of our nation’s park system, the glory of our nation’s electrical grid. All of these built in partnership between the government and the people of this country: a confluence of technology, wise government, real vision, and the hard work of the American people.
To me, the sort of innovation with which America had built its reputation is at the very core of American “exceptionalism.” Not that we are some divinely ordained beacon of democratic light for other “lesser” nations, but that we had the ability to foresee a better place–a better country, fueled by imagination, hard work, and the understanding that we are–all of us–in it together. To me, that sensibility no longer exists. It’s evaporated, sucked into an inescapable vortex of broken politics
And our nation is the poorer for it–literally and figuatively. Our nation’s infrastructure is crumbling, bridge by bridge, dam by dam, highway by highway. The railway lines chug along at speeds far behind those of other countries, a metaphor for the race we are losing, punctuated by derailments and gridlock. And while other countries (and some states) invest in their nations’ infrastructure, we are losing the race, too old, too weighed down, and mired in a political quagmire to act.
So, forgive me if I’m puzzled about what I see as a clean straight line from a true public commitment to infrastructure to engineering to implementation. A space race firmly planted on terra firma. Not piecemeal projects to patch and repair, but an overall reimagining of what we need to do to bring this country into the (no-longer-so-new) 21st Century. Instead of looking for new ways to get “clean coal” out of the earth, we should be investing in renewable energy; instead of denying climate change, we should be investing in ways not only to stem it (if it’s not already too late) but to address the effects already beginning to affect our country, and, indeed, the world.
You may ask: where do we get the money? It starts with revenue (horrors, I know–taxes!) and redirecting some of the defense budget from irrelevant and outdated programs to what really need for this country’s defense: a technologically superior infrastructure, from the electrical grid to nationwide Internet to our transportation (including high-speed rail, and the renewal of our airports), and the and preparation for the impending effects of climate change (and they are coming!)
Put the country to work. Lots of jobs in rebuilding the country’s crumbling infrastructure: skilled and unskilled. Opportunity to learn a trade fit for this century, not the 20th or 19th. Put recent grads to work, requiring two years of public service and pay them like army enlistees, followed up with a re-invigorated GI Bill. Send the next generation to college without killing their future financial well being.
To me, this is clear, linear, and incredibly simple, at least on paper. But it requires a government with cajones to do it. A president with the vision and will to make it happen. A Congress with the ability to see past the inter- and intra-party fractures and come together for a common good. The impact would be huge, and benefit everyone, from people in rural states and communities to the big cities, from the poorest citizens with no hope to the wealthiest corporations. It must be a partnership between government, industry, and the people. It is, to me, the only way forward; the only way to ensure our country’s economy, security, and recapture the words first articulated by Thomas Jefferson with the promise of this country: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.