A recitation of the state of our current affairs is hardly necessary given our shared experiences over the past 12 months. The downstream effects of the pandemic have become all too apparent with supply chains disrupted, unrecoverable jobs lost, deferred health care, weakened or broken public health care systems, fear and unimaginable death across the country.
Compounding this epidemic of biblical proportions is a layering of existential climate crises, devastating wildfires, wilding tornados and winter storms that have exceeded any previous demands for insurance payments. The electrical grid and water disaster in Texas is almost unimaginable in a country like the United States. All of these incredibly taxing things rest on a foundation of an aging national infrastructure.
So, given these monumental challenges, what do we do? We engage in intramural schoolboy name calling antics, finger pointing, cult and conspiracy theories, condescending political rhetoric, and assaults on our U.S. Capitol. If ever there was a time for leaders of both parties to ascend to the patriotic challenge of saving and repairing our beloved country, it would seem to be now. There is unquestionably common ground between the doctrine of both the Republican and the Democratic parties to address all the issues that we face. Where then is the pride, ambition and enthusiasm to build that future?
In addressing the Group of Seven (G7) European leaders this past week President Biden made a notable statement. He said that amid the rise and growing competition from authoritarian nations like China and Russia, “We must demonstrate that democracies can deliver for our people.” That has to be a clarion call for any red-blooded American citizen.
The Wall Street Journal reported this week that China’s economy expanded by 2.3% in 2020, the only major world economy (world’s second largest) to grow in the pandemic year of 2020. But the future presents other challenges to our nation beyond trade and economics. Russia has pilfered government and corporate national security secrets through its Trojan Horse-like SolarWinds attack against our private-sector trade and security secrets. North Korea’s military intelligence computer programmers have been caught trying to pilfer $1.2 billion from U.S. banks. Revenue challenged and morally challenged nations like North Korea and Russia have no alternatives but to steal treasure and innovation from smart and innovative nations and they will be implacable in their pursuit of these criminal strategies.
For 12 years of the last two decades of the 20th century I was president of the Denver Council on Foreign Relations. Speakers from around the world informed Denver business and governmental leaders on a variety of global issues, but strategically, most of those discussions centered on thermonuclear weapons of mass destruction. In terms of threats to American security, in an amazingly short period of time we have gone from bombs to bites to bioweapons.
As word began to spread of the COVID-19 viral epidemic, in both the United States and China, fears and conspiracy theories spread over whether the coronavirus epidemic was a deliberate act of bioterrorism. Rationality aside, Russia, China and the United States, among others I’m sure, have developed bioweapons.
China’s recent attempts to further control online information, requiring bloggers to become certified by the state to operate and only use government approved information as a basis for publications, underlines another future challenge for nations around the world. In the U.S., the likes of Facebook, Google and Twitter are being scrutinized for controlling speech. What are the facts? What is true or untrue? Are there such things as “alternative facts?” Russia has proven the fact that disinformation can be toxic to democracies.
I think about all these things. The climate-change threats and consequences. The virus and bioterrorism threats. The digital theft and disinformation threats of cybersecurity. The infrastructure threats. I wonder, do we have the capacity and the will to set aside petty partisan politics? Do we have the pride, the ambition and enthusiasm to prove that democracies can not only prevail but lead the world in dealing with these metastasizing 21st century challenges or are we just going to dissolve into a quarrelsome partisan mess, letting authoritarian leaders just pass us by?
Bill Sims is a Hillsboro resident, an author, and runs a small farm in Berrysville with his wife. He is a former educator, executive and foundation president.