When did the U.S. stop dreaming? When did the people that built the Hoover Dam, the national interstate highway system, and created the Panama Canal become a country that touts a handful of useless pedestrian bridges as the signature achievement of a generational infrastructure bill?
In June of 1956, President Dwight Eisenhower signed the Federal Aid Highway Act authorizing construction of a 41,000-mile national system of interstates. Barring a few small sections, most work had been completed by the 80’s. A significant portion of U.S. economic expansion and success that took place between 1960 and 2000 was only possible because of that system. Hoover Dam was conceived in 1922, authorized in 1931 and completed a mere four years later. The Panama Canal is maybe the single greatest economic infrastructure success story in modern history. The U.S. took over construction from the French in 1904. Much of the engineering needed to accomplish the feat was created on the spot – a truly herculean engineering effort – and the Canal was opened in 1914, ten years after construction began. We were a nation of giants. Titans who bestrode the earth, molding it to our needs.
Then, somewhere in the 1990s – maybe even as early as the 1980s – we stopped being that. We devolved from Titans into mice. Our proudest achievements since that time? Name one, because I can’t. The signature products of President Biden’s infrastructure bill are increased funding for government bureaucracy, and a handful of tiny pedestrian bridges. The cost of a whole lotta not much? One trillion dollars. Even when we do dream big – like California did with high-speed rail – the result is pathetic at best. Criminal at worst. California has so far spent over $113 billion. And pretty much nothing has actually been built. According to California’s High-Speed Rail Authority, the system is “not really an existing project.” Yeah, you got that right, folks, they spent over $100 billion to achieve…absolutely nothing.
Arizona and Nevada have spent over a decade simply trying to agree with the federal government and eco-terrorist lobby on a route for a new Interstate 11 corridor between Phoenix and Las Vegas.
The United States newest nuclear power plant has taken 43 years to complete.
I could go on, but you get the picture. It’s been decades since the U.S. began and completed any truly major infrastructure projects. Decades since we stopped dreaming, stopped doing, and started slowly dying. We are Rome at the end of the Republic: unable to even maintain the roads we’ve already built, while the wolves of the world circle the rotting corpse of our empire. And yet here we are again, in the midst of another Presidential election with dire consequences predicted on both sides of the aisle, and no one is even talking about a return to the pioneering, fearless accomplishments of the past.
There’s plenty of need for things that could, in time, stand alongside the great achievements of our past. The Southwestern U.S. is in desperate need of a new source of fresh water. A multi-state desalination and pipeline system isn’t a pipe dream – the technologies are all there to make it work. The political will isn’t. A nationwide network of new nuclear technologies would secure our energy future, free fossil fuel reserves for export and non-energy needs (like plastic and fertilizer) and turbocharge our economy for a generation. No one’s even talking about it seriously. Our power grid is the lifeblood of our country. But it’s old, creaking under the strain of exponentially increasing power demand, and woefully unprepared to withstand either a deliberate attack or solar electro-magnetic storm. If the grid goes down for any length of time, tens of millions will die. Maybe hundreds. Of course, a nationwide effort at hardening and securing the grid is entirely doable, but utilities don’t even want to talk about it.
It’s time we started dreaming again. Doing again. And any Presidential candidate who can’t or won’t speak to the need to do so isn’t worthy of the stage or this moment.