I’m asked with some frequency these days, what do I think the United States will look like in 25 years to 50 years? Underlying this question is a real concern that we’ve lost our way as a nation, that the best is behind us and a strong feeling that the generations to come won’t have it as good as we’ve had.
Actually, I think the United States will be fine. It’ll still be a world power, but not as dominant as it is today and was in the 20th century. I think we’ll still have one of the largest and most important economies in the world; that we’ll still be a powerhouse of invention; and that ourmovies, music and other entertainment forms will still dominate the globe.
American English will continue to be the international means of communication. Sorry Britain, there’s no license fee on language.
A rosy picture, eh? Not quite.
The second, and maybe the more important question, is what sort of country will the United States be to live in? This picture is less rosy.
First, we’re dividing into a country of the super rich and the burgeoning working poor living unpleasantly. The movement of quality manufacturing jobs in the auto and steel industries to the South tells part of that story. The high-wage jobs of Michigan and the unionized North — jobs that pay about $35 an hour — to the union-free auto plants and factories of the South, which pay $14 an hour, is a harbinger of the future. Can less be more?
If the United States is going to have told hold down its wages, then we should fix the living space; that means the infrastructure. It’s a mess and it’ll take decades to bring it up to the standards of much of the rest of the world.
We need better roads (less time in traffic), repaired bridges, sewers, water systems and public transportation. We also should fix the parks — state and national — and build pedestrian areas where we can enjoy the great natural beauty of our rivers and woodlands. London and Paris and Vienna make their rivers places of beauty and recreation. New York runs highways along its rivers — highways where it should have cafes. Los Angeles has enclosed its streams in concrete.
London has refurbished Brunel's masterpiece of design St. Pancras railway station to accommodate the new 200-mph trains that will whisk you to Paris in a little over two hours. Both the station and the trains are great achievements; achievements that can be enjoyed by traveler and visitor alike.
By contrast Union Station in Washington, D.C., a masterpiece in its day, is a mess. The tracks are inadequate. The station seating is inadequate, broken and mostly an afterthought. The restrooms are inadequate and dirty. The majesty of the station has been destroyed by tawdry retailers and half-finished repairs. Decay permeates the place — maybe to prepare the passengers for the disreputable taxis outside.
What an introduction to the capital of the free world. However, if you’ve just arrived on Amtrak, you might already be so dispirited you won't notice.
Likewise, the nation's schools need to be renovated. Leaky buildings seem more designed to prepare students for a lifetime of failure and decline than for a life of pride and accomplishment. “We make buildings and they make us,” Winston Churchill said.
The case for fixing the nation's infrastructure is compelling. But it does not compel in Congress. Congress is hell-bent to hurt the infrastructure with cost cutting-measures that will — as has happened in Britain and Spain — as likely as not add to the deficit rather than reducing it.
A more believable use of the government's resources might be to start fixing America by diverting some of the defense budget to sprucing up and repairing the nation, yielding results in a time frame of 25 to 50 years.
The story of another Churchill saying goes like this:
Churchill was walking in the garden of his beloved home, Chartwell, when he summoned the gardener and said, “I want you to plant an oak tree here.”
The gardener, looking to Churchill and seeing a man approaching 90, said, “But sir, it’ll take a hundred years to grow.”
“Well, you had better plant it now, hadn't you?” averred Churchill.
Quite so. The future awaits. – For the Hearst-New York Times Syndicate