Historians have generally accepted the somewhat chauvinistic interpretation of the last hundred years as the “American Century,” and the peak of the industrial age was, arguably, the first two decades of the 1900s in the United States. For the next 50 years America designed and built the modern society for which we are paying the price today.
Unfortunately, that was then and this is now. The golden age buildings and bridges of our expansionist period are 60 to 100 years old and generally deteriorating faster than we will admit. The overhaul of the Statue of Liberty wasn’t just a gesture for the bicentennial. The internal armature was so badly corroded that the danger of collapse was judged to be only a matter of a few years.
Even what we consider modern is now old. The United Nations building was the hope of the future when it was built on Manhattan’s East River in the late ’40s, but that was 50-plus years ago. Just think what changes in the building codes have been mandated since that time. Now might be a good time to get the U.N. out of the U.S. as a half measure of the conservative ambition to make America independent of the rest of the world.
While we are busily re-building the bombed out bridges of Baghdad across the Tigris, over a dozen of the spans across the Mississippi are rusting away and demand replacement before they fail, crippling transcontinental transportation, rail and road. Our railroads are deteriorating under the federal/private partnership that leaves nobody responsible for maintenance, the roads are wearing out from increased load limits on trucking, our waterways continue to be the sewer system for 20th century factories and mines and the insatiable demand for paper is denuding our forests.
It is demonstrable that government, as presently performed by Washington and the several states, is incapable of addressing this broad-based decay, any more than the Mayans, Incas and Romans were able to reverse the process of decline in their societies. The emerging nations of the globe are already far ahead of the U.S. in the technology of these times, while we still use copper wire for phone lines in much of rural America and struggle to deliver health care on par with India, Thailand and Cuba.
If we are to arrest this deterioration, and it is highly questionable that we can, it will require action by nongovernmental organization and activism. The new generation of Kennedy kids are notable for going out on independent or nonprofit projects rather than beginning the long political climb to power in the family tradition, and in this age of Internet, Michael Moore and the Minutemen may play a larger role than the senators and governors whose feeble efforts fail annually.
It may be time to make work by preserving what we’ve got, before we lose both the past and our future.
“Travus T. Hipp” is a 40-year veteran radio commentator with six stations in California carrying his daily version of the news and opinions. “The Poor Hippy’s Paul Harvey,” Travus is a member of the Nevada Broadcasters Hall of Fame, but unemployable in the Silver State due to his eclectic political views.