The juxtaposition of demonstrations, riots and looting in the streets of many U.S. cities and the success of the first commercial delivery of astronauts to the International Space Station could not be more poignant. Looking backwards and looking forward.
This is not to deny the importance of the current demonstrations but they reflect problems that should have been solved years ago by responsible citizens and an ethical government – unfortunately, both descriptions are definitely oxymorons judged by current circumstances. However, rehashing those two oxymorons is a digression for the purposes of this Blog. I want to look to a more positive future.
When I watched the recent space success I was reminded of the space race of the 1960’s. The shock to the U.S. psyche of Russia putting Sputnik into orbit first with Lena, a dog, and then with Yuri Gargarin, an astronaut, galvanized the United States into National action. President Kennedy’s commitment to put a man on the moon produced a generation of Americans with a National purpose. Thousands attended lift-offs at Cape Canaveral, now Cape Kennedy, in Florida and thousands more were glued to their television sets watching the spectacles of space flight. The entire nation held its breath for several days when the aborted flight of Apollo 13 struggled to get back to Earth. The feeling of nationalism and society cohesiveness was unprecedented and reached across almost all barriers and national divides.
If it worked so successfully then in bringing the nation together, I thought, why couldn’t it happen again and, maybe, just maybe, on a planetary level this time, not just on a particular country level. Another pipe-dream, perhaps, but, as they say, if you don’t dream, you won’t achieve anything. It also made me reflect on my perception that the U.S. seems to have lost its way. That is obviously my cultural bias coming from England, but it is also a result of spending the majority of my life in the United States. We seemed to be becoming more fragmented and lacking in purpose even before the disastrous advent of the Trump presidency. Three years of Trump have made it far worse, but it started quite a while ago.
It is difficult to define a national purpose since so many elements contribute to such a concept. I suppose it starts with sensible, believable, empathetic, charismatic and competent leadership and we certainly have none of those elements in the current occupant of the White House or, indeed, in most countries in the world. Worse, those qualities must be obvious to majority of the population if a national purpose is to evolve. It is too easy to write-off Trump fanatics as lunatics but they have legitimate concerns that any competent national leader must address whatever political party they represent. Unfortunately, I am totally pessimistic that such leadership currently exists anywhere in the U.S. political arena and almost anywhere in the world, so the current chances of developing a national purpose, let alone a global purpose and direction, are slim. As far as the U.S. is concerned, I have one observation….
Pathetic, for the most powerful and richest country currently on Earth!