I’m in the process of building a new house. Okay, I’m having it built. In over three solid weeks of blazing hot 90-degree days, workers have poured nine-foot concrete walls, laid down flatwork, hoisted floor joists and rafters, dug drainage channels, and framed floors and walls eight hours a day while the thermometer threatened to explode. It’s impressive to watch these hardworking, experienced, Hillsboro builders. It’s demonstrative of what folks like these construction workers can do with opportunity, perseverance, and the right mindset.
So I had to agree with conservative columnist George Will when he wrote recently that, “This nation built the Empire State Building (102 stories high and 2,734,000 square feet), groundbreaking to official opening in 410 days during the Depression, and the Pentagon (3,700,000 square feet) in 16 months during wartime.” Mr. Will then segued to his point, “Today’s less serious nation is unable to competently combat a pandemic, or even reliably conduct elections. This is what national decline looks like.” To nail down his point, he hammered this up: “Last Sunday, Germany (population 80.2 million) had 159 new cases of Covid-19; Florida (population 21.5 million) had 15,300.
We know what this country is capable of when we collectively set our minds to it. Mobilizing to defeat the Axis Powers in WWII took a concerted, cooperative effort of all Americans, and thousands of American soldiers paid the ultimate price. President Kennedy challenged the nation to put a man on the moon, and we did it half a century ago with bipartisan support to lead the world in space exploration. President Eisenhower challenged the nation to build 41,000 miles of modern highway, the Interstate Highway system. He had been impressed with Germany’s autobahn system. Final bipartisan legislation for the 1956 Federal-Aid Highway Act passed the House 388-19, and the Senate 89-1, creating hundreds of thousands of American jobs. President Roosevelt’s New Deal helped to pull us out of a depression with programs to protect and put people to work like the Civilian Conservation Corp, Social Security, the Farm Security Act, the Civil Works Administration, the Rural Electrification Act.
So the question that looms over America today is, where is the same collective sense of urgency and perseverance to battle this pandemic that challenges our nation. Our fragmented indifference and chaotic response to COVID-19 threatens our economy, our democracy, our pride, and our global reputation. In so many fateful times in history, American citizens have set aside petty and partisan differences and personal indulgences to overcome existential threats and challenges to American exceptionalism.
The workers building my new house are all the proof I need of what Americans can accomplish when we decide to team up, work together, and put our shoulders to the wheel. Ninety-six degrees outside? No problem; bring it on. Cut some more watermelon. No crane available? No problem; we’ll hoist the roof rafters by hand. No doubt in my mind this house will be done before the snow flies. These guys work with a sense of urgency, every day. Now if we can only figure a way to transport this sense of ‘can do’ collective urgency and pride from Hillsboro, Ohio to Washington DC, we might just emerge once again as the consensus leader of the world when it comes to global challenges.
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.