Okay, I’m old. When the United Nations was founded, October 29, 1945 at Lake Success, NY, my sentences had about two to four words. I was more “verbal” when George Marshall delivered the outline of his plan to revive a devastated Europe in 1947. By the time NATO was founded, April 4, 1949, I could use a knife and fork at the dinner table without too much destruction, and I had “Henry The Helicopter” memorized, to the periodic dismay of those within earshot. To the point, at the beginning of my life the United States was the light on the horizon, the source of strength to our allies, the victor in an existential battle between fascism and democracy. At the sunset end of the life scale I hope I’m not watching the end of the American Era.
It took a while for the returning veterans, my father included, to find housing after The War. There were still shortages. My grandmother was still cutting both ends out of tin cans in order to smash them for recycling. However, it didn’t seem all that long for a child to understand that wagon tires could be replaced, housing problems didn’t last forever, and schools were bulging. We were building. We were inventing. We were strong, and the enemy was the Russian Bear — who by the time I was in elementary school had put together the Warsaw Pact. The Iron Curtain slammed down on eastern Europe, and we had duck down drills in case of — you know what with a mushroom cloud, as the Civil Defense folks stored crackers in strange basements.
We might not have known what was in store for the nation with sprawling subdivisions and tail finned cars, but we did know that whatever might come our way the United States of America could out-invent, out-market, out-build, and out-organize anyone else on the planet. We went to the moon. We put up weather satellites. We invented the Internet.
About the same time the Russians were lowering the curtain in eastern Europe, three Americans (Chapin, Fuller, and Pearson) were working on photovoltaic technology at Bell Labs. Solar power was becoming a real possibility. Now, when a person uses Google to locate the largest solar panel installations to implement this technology the results are disappointing. There’s the Arnedo installation in Spain. The Waldpolenz plant in Germany. The Moura installation in Portugal. We have plans for Rancho Cielo and Topaz. India announced the world’s largest solar plant in November 2016.
Perhaps at some point, nothing specific, maybe not anything generalized and perceived as such, we became “The sum of our fears?”
White supremacy, so long taken for granted, enshrined in local laws and memorialized in statuary, is no longer socially acceptable. This made some people uncomfortable. Manufacturers and their plants took advantage of the changes in global logistics to move to areas with lower wages and fewer restrictions on workplace safety regulations. This made some people fearful for their employment. Fear is a powerful force. It can make people fearful of a small but fervent subset of heretics who like most thuggish cowards prefer bombs for dramatic effect. Are these individuals the Greatest Peril of Our Times?
The answer is a resounding NO. In order to realistically face our greatest perils we must face our most disturbing realities.
Climate change is REAL. There’s no “hoax,” except in the minds of those who have purchased the fossil giant’s propaganda wholesale. Russian interference in the democracies of the West is a far greater peril that the fatal antics of the heretics whose activities endanger the religion they parody.
What are we to make of a President who (1) will not, seemingly under any circumstances, offer criticism of the regime of Vladimir Putin? (2) will not accept the conclusions of Science that global climate change is real? (3) will not meet the expectations of our European allies? (4) will accede to the dismal human rights record of Middle Eastern absolute monarchies, but will not offer support for global efforts to deal with refugees?
Our President will quickly tell us to be afraid of our Mexican and Central American neighbors, but not that we are leaving the very planet on a road to uninhabitability. He will tell us to be very afraid of “terrorists” (but not the White Supremacist variety?) but not provide any disparagement of Russian incursions into Crimea and Ukraine. When those nations which emerged from behind that Iron Curtain expressed concern about further Russian incursion, the President would not articulate support for NATO’s article Five.
What looks to be missing is old fashioned American Can Do. We don’t have to be pawns in a global game crafted by oligarchs, dictatorial governments, and financialists. We don’t have to be fearful of social change and the continuing integration of our society. We don’t have to be afraid of small night tremors while major terrors, like the disintegration of our governmental institutions, loom in the darkness.
Perhaps we need to pay a bit more attention to the Islamic organizations which organized and collected donations for the victims of the Portland domestic terrorist. More to the entrepreneurial spirit and its implementation in our immigrant communities. More to the conservation of our planet and all its inhabitants. More attention to the climate, and less to the weather. More to the overall success of all the elements of our economy, and less to the stock market ticker scroll.
We can do this. We faced down larger threats before. We defeated the World’s Largest Imperial Power to gain our sovereignty. We survived one of the world’s worst and most destructive Civil Wars. We emerged from contest between megalomaniac fascism and democracy victorious. We are Americans. We hope.