When did Americans become such whiners?
We’ve faced crises before. Two world wars, the Civil War, the Great Depression, Watergate, 9/11 and so much more. And, in every case, Americans stepped up and did what they thought was right. They were willing to make personal sacrifices.
Today’s crisis is the greatest we’ve ever faced. Yet, with daily climate catastrophes to remind us, most Americans are either embracing the latest tech miracle to distract themselves, cowering in a sense of helplessness or flat-out denying that there’s a problem.
We didn’t used to be such cowards. We used to face the truth and understand our individual and collective responsibility to address it.
When Americans finally realized they had to fight Fascism, my parents were among millions and millions of Americans who committed themselves, body, mind and soul to their defeat. My father joined the Army Air Force, a farm boy flung out into the unknown. My mother, still in high school, promoted war bonds and scrap metal drives. She and her family accepted gas, clothing and food rationing as a matter of pride.
When we were young men facing the bloody reality of the Vietnam War, my brother and I stepped up. He joined the Marines. I joined peace rallies. He saved lives. I tried to help end the war. We were both on the same side, doing what we believed was right for America. He faced death. I faced imprisonment for dodging the draft. Neither one of us complained.
Unlike the Vietnam War we have a consensus on climate change. Two-thirds of Americans – over 66% — think we should do more to address climate change. Yet, where are we? Why do most of us still just go about our business as usual? Why hasn’t our Congress been able to pass a major climate action bill?
Sure, right now we’re dealing with the pandemic. Unfortunately, that is playing out as a completely botched dress rehearsal for addressing the bigger issue of addressing the climate emergency.
I was born in the era of the polio epidemic. President Franklin D. Roosevelt had it. And everyone knew someone who’d been killed or paralyzed by it. My cousin has been crippled by it. When Jonas Salk introduced his polio vaccine in 1955, he was heralded around the world as a hero and a miracle worker. People lined up for the vaccination in droves.
As David M. Oshinsky pointed out in his book, Polio: An American Story, “In 1955, many Americans had an especially deep respect for science.” After World War II antibiotics were rolling off the production line for the first time. People were proud that America was leading the battle against infectious disease, much the same as their pride in America’s all-out effort to defeat Fascism.
Sixty-five years later, we’re seeing widespread reluctance, even virulent opposition, to vaccination against a virus that has already killed 643,000 Americans. As of today (9/4/21) only 56% of Americans are fully vaccinated against Covid-19, nine months after they became freely available. Many states are having to bribe people with cash and prizes just to get them to take a tiny shot in the arm.
Anti-science conspiracy theories about Covid and the vaccines abound. Fights break out over the mere imposition of wearing a mask. During the 1918 Pandemic known [incorrectly] as the ‘Spanish Flu’ it was considered unpatriotic not to wear a mask. Those few who resisted faced public scorn and even arrest. The Oakland police chief back then was quoted as saying, “We are going to enforce this mask ordinance if we have to pack the city jail with people.”
This summer when the highly contagious Delta Variant first emerged, the Orange County Health Department mandated masks at public gatherings, indoor retail and restaurants. The county sheriff refused to enforce it. He refused to do what doctors told him would help save lives.
How did we go from being proud mask-wearing patriots lining up for vaccines for the good of the country to self-indulgent whiners pointing feebly at ‘fake science’ and comparing mask-wearing to Nazi oppression?
How did we go from honoring Dr. Salk as a hero to death threats against a doctor who, like Salk, is trying to save lives with well-tested medicine? Hundreds of violent threats have been made against Dr. Fauci, including one that the FBI is investigating in which a man said he planned to kill Fauci and his entire family for lying to the public.
If we cannot cooperate enough to defeat Covid-19, we don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of saving ourselves from climate catastrophe.
Instead of cooperation for the greater good, we see people crying and complaining about the demise of gas-guzzling vehicles, increased gas prices and fear of losing their dirty jobs in coal mines and oil fields.
While firestorms rage across the West, hurricanes slam into the coasts, unprecedented levels of rainfall flood the Midwest, millions of Americans vehemently deny the reality of manmade climate change. They label climate activists as Communists.
Biden’s promise that millions of jobs will result from investment into a clean energy infrastructure is well-substantiated. As jobs in coal, oil and gas are phased out, new jobs will emerge in solar energy, in the building and installation of wind turbines, in the nationwide construction of a new energy grid and electric vehicle charging stations. Yes, people will need to be re-trained. Some will need to relocate.
And that is exactly what we’ve done throughout history. According to the University of Washington’s project called America’s Great Migrations, “Americans have always been a moving people, coming from other places, moving to new places.”
All our mass movement was motivated by economic survival. Southerners, Blacks and whites, moved north for factory jobs. Midwest farmers moved west when the Dust Bowl wiped out their farms. Mexican-Americans moved north and west, many of them following the crop harvests that kept them employed.
In the late 1950’s when my family’s South Dakota farm could no longer support the family, my father became a long haul truck driver. Away from his family too much, he then sought out a factory job. Landing one at American Motors in Kenosha, Wisconsin, he and my mother packed up their five small children and everything they owned, leaving behind the only life they’d ever known. I never heard them complain.
What happened to America’s ‘can do’ spirit?
We could blame the disinformation campaigns and conspiracy theories on the internet and social media. We could blame Big Oil as the fifth column in our battle to mitigate climate change. Collectively they spent $235 million just this year to convince Americans that their products are not responsible for the climate crisis. We could blame Russian bots for seeding doubt and divisiveness. We could even point the finger at other countries. Why isn’t China doing more? But none of that excuses us, the American people.
The United States is still the wealthiest country on earth. We’ve stood so very tall championing freedom and democracy. We once felt that we had earned the right to be a super power. So why are we so afraid of leading the rest of the world in the greatest challenge humanity has every faced?
My parents lived their lives with one primary goal – to give their children a better, richer life than they had. That ideal was passed down to them from their parents and their grandparents. What will this generation pass down to their children?
The American Dream was founded on self-sacrifice for the greater good. Or, it should have been. Let’s show our children that our hearts are still in the right place, that we are willing to do whatever it takes for them to thrive.