I am seriously worried that America is no longer, as President Reagan put it in his 1989 Farewell Address, “the shining city upon the hill”. American “exceptionalism” is hard to find these days and, like so many things, the state of America is getting worse.
New York Times writer, David Brooks, cites five epic crises America is facing all at once. (1) Covid-19; (2) the rapid education of the burdens African Americans carry every day; (3) political re-alignment – a personality cult whose cult leader is over; (4) changes in the cultural revolution – a struggle between groups, some of which are oppressors and others of which are oppressed; and (5) a devastated economy. In another Brooks article, he summed it up like this: We are undergoing a more permanent shift in national consciousness, a reconstruction of meanings, symbols, values and narratives. If the old American creed grew up in an atmosphere of assumed security and liberty, the new one is growing up in an atmosphere of vulnerability and precariousness.
To me, the evidence of the state of America is a simple one – the division among citizens regarding the use of masks to address the spread of the coronavirus. A Houston Chronicle editorial “Why we wear masks” described the sacrifices Americans made during World War II – not just the millions of soldiers that volunteered but also the people back home who ate leftovers and planted victory gardens to make sure there was enough food to feed the troops. People who bought more than $180 billion in war bonds and launched drives to scrounge scrap metal and rubber to build weapons and equipment. People who volunteered as civil defense wardens. People who used ration books to buy limited supplies of butter, sugar, canned milk, tires, gasoline, fuel oil, coal, firewood, nylon, silk and shoes. And women, who picked up the slack in crucial manufacturing, by going to work in factories and shipyards. These were real sacrifices. What is it about Americans today who are unwilling to wear a mask that will reduce the spread of a deadly pandemic and especially protect the greatest generation that sacrificed so much for us? I do not see it as a sacrifice to wear a mask, it’s the moral thing to do.
So, who’s not wearing masks? According to a recent Gallop poll, about 1/3 of Americans regularly wear a mask when out in public. Women are more likely than men to wear masks; Democrats are more likely than Republicans; city dwellers are more likely than rural residents. But the bottom line is, most Americans are not regularly wearing masks when outside their home. So, is it any wonder that the United States, having only 5% of the world’s population, has 29% of all coronavirus deaths?
In Houston this past weekend, there was a “Unmuzzled Freedom Rally” at Market Square Park. There was “no masking their feelings” by the anti-maskers about wearing a mask – they wanted no part of it and no one was going to make them. And unfortunately, rallies like this have been occurring all across the country. It just takes one jerk standing on the side of a swimming pool and peeing into the pool to spoil it for everyone. Anti-maskers are “peeing in our pool” as they walk around, potentially spreading the coronavirus to others. Do these people even put their hand over their mouth when they sneeze or cough?
This brings me to the question of how will the United States address a much more serious issue in the future – namely climate change. The changes needed to address global warming and climate change are orders of magnitude greater than changes we’ve been unable to do in addressing the coronavirus pandemic. If most Americans won’t wear a mask, they surely will not support, for example, a carbon tax, or any other of the potentially effective means to seriously address climate change.
I’m worried about America – not so much for me, or even my grown children. I’m worried about my grandchildren who will be around as the world witnesses continuing increases in global temperature, causing notable effects every day. And, every year it will get worse when millions of people worldwide decide they must migrate, rather than starve or bake in their homeland; when millions of people must migrate as sea levels redefine their current shores; and when millions of people are devastated by continuing worsening and frequency of serious weather events.
I’m worried about America. I wish more Americans would wear a mask, because if they did, then maybe I’d have more hope for our future.