NTMWD Plant Smart 2024

This is a time of testing for all of us

by | Aug 12, 2020 | Opinion

A few weeks ago, The New York Times ran an article noting that with the U.S. preoccupied by the coronavirus pandemic, Black Lives Matter protests, and massive unemployment, “its competitors are moving to fill the vacuum, and quickly.”

Russia, China, North Korea, Iran. All are testing how far they can go, seeking to exploit our weaknesses and fill the vacuum they perceive in world leadership. Our allies, meanwhile, are expressing dismay at the U.S.’s inability to come to grips with the pandemic – symbolized most acutely by the prospect that Americans will be barred from traveling to a partially reopened Europe this summer – and at our withdrawal from world organizations, treaties, and involvement in places where we have traditionally been central to keeping the peace.

There are good reasons we have turned inward. As a nation, we have botched the response to the coronavirus, as its recent sharp upward trajectory illustrates. We are still feeling our way through the economic impact, with every likelihood that millions of people will be struggling for a long time. And, of course, street protests, concern about policing, and turmoil over the nation’s racial practices are occupying many people’s attention.

Any one of these things would have been enough to try us as a country; all together make this a desperately difficult time. We’ve been through times like this in the past, and no doubt will again in the future, but at this moment, our mettle is being tested as it rarely has been. The country won’t be out of control if each of us steps up to the challenges we see in our own neighborhoods and our nation.

Oddly, I find something bracing about this. Not long ago I was meeting with a group of young graduate students, who asked what troubled me most about the problems we confront, and the word that instantly came to mind was “complacency.” As Americans, we have a tendency to feel that we’ve always come through hard times and always will. The result is often a sense that we can leave things to others; to our leaders, to our nonprofits, churches, and community groups, to our more involved neighbors. We ourselves don’t set out to do the things we know need to be done.

But here’s the thing about a representative democracy like ours; it doesn’t work unless citizens do their part, and I include our leaders in this. At its heart, it asks of us that we find a niche where we can improve things. It’s disheartening to see recent polls that suggest huge percentages of Americans believe things in the country are out of control – 80% of respondents in a recent NBC News/Wall St. Journal poll – but it’s heartening to know there’s something we can do about it. The country won’t be out of control if each of us steps up to the challenges we see in our own neighborhoods and our nation.

I began my political career because I felt like I needed to do something to help my community in southern Indiana and didn’t know where to start. So, I asked my precinct committeeman, who enlisted me to go door to door to try to get voters involved. That led eventually to Congress, and ultimately to a committee chairmanship trying to resolve some of the country’s knottiest foreign affairs challenges. You never know where these things are going to lead.

My point in saying this is that we can all start somewhere. We are divided as a nation on political, economic, and racial lines. We face the existential challenge of climate change. Many of us on both the right and the left worry about a lack of moral perspective in how we approach our problems.

All of these are ripe for actions that we, as individuals, can take. If you’re white, for instance, how much time have you spent talking to Black people or Latinos about the hostility and difficulties they face? Making the effort to understand as best you can is an important step toward recognizing how deep-seated these problems are, and at the same time how they might be overcome.

This time of testing is an opportunity. It’s a chance to shake off the complacency we’d settled into, and to exercise the gift that our system gives us, the ability to make a difference.

For more stories like this, see the Aug. 12 issue or subscribe online.

By Lee H. Hamilton, Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.

Subscribe RH Love

0 Comments

Order photos

Related News

Phelan wins re-election bid, seeks speaker post again

Phelan wins re-election bid, seeks speaker post again

House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, narrowly won re-election in a hotly contested runoff race and has vowed to seek his third term as speaker, drawing threats from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to oppose any of his supporters in the 2024 primary. “I’ve done it...

read more
Additional disaster assistance approved

Additional disaster assistance approved

Seven Texas counties have been approved by the Federal Emergency Management Agency for grants for emergency work and replacement of disaster-damaged public infrastructure, after severe weather and flooding struck much of Deep East Texas, Gov. Gregg Abbott’s office...

read more
Laundry: There’s more than one way to fold

Laundry: There’s more than one way to fold

You would think that there’s only one way to fold towels. But, you’d be wrong. Growing up in Ashdown, Arkansas, my momma showed me how to fold them, as well as shirts, socks, underpants, and other personal sundries. I assumed that this skillset would carry me all the...

read more
The Lawn Moore

The Lawn Moore

America really is The Land of Opportunity. Even if there’s only one opportunity, and that opportunity is cutting the grass.  Ashdown, Arkansas, was a pretty typical small American town in the 1960s and 1970s.  Kids weren’t just handed things. If we wanted...

read more
A myth understanding

A myth understanding

In the South, we believed with all of our hearts what we were told when we were children. Even if it was wrong. In the 1960s, the RCA color console TV my family had on Beech Street in Ashdown, Arkansas, could make you go blind. It could if you believed what our mom...

read more
On the road again and again

On the road again and again

Back in the 60s, some American college kids protested the Vietnam War, but mostly, they conducted sit-ins. Few protests were violent. Other American college kids would have contests to see how many of them they could cram into a Volkswagen. Today, some college kids...

read more
Aisle be seeing you

Aisle be seeing you

As a child growing up in Ashdown, Arkansas, we had two main grocery stores. Shur-Way and Piggly Wiggly. Or as my dad called it, “Hoggly Woggly.” A trip to the store was like each TV commercial had come to life. Advertising agencies at the time were very good at what...

read more
‘Aggressive’ hurricane forecast for Gulf Coast

‘Aggressive’ hurricane forecast for Gulf Coast

Colorado State University researchers are calling this year’s hurricane season forecast “the most aggressive” ever, the Texas Standard reported. They say there is a 54% chance a hurricane will strike the Texas coast, and a 25% chance it will be major. Justin Ballard,...

read more
Fixer Uppers

Fixer Uppers

Recently, I saw something I haven’t seen in many years. A young man driving a car he was fixing up. It was an older Mustang. By older I mean a 90’s model. The car had spots of primer, there were a few dents, and the exhaust system appeared to be loose. By John Moore...

read more
Solar eclipse means big money to Texas

Solar eclipse means big money to Texas

One economist is calling it “the most profitable 22 minutes in Texas history,” according to the Texas Standard. The total solar eclipse on Monday, April 8 is expected to draw up to a million visitors to the Lone Star State, especially in its narrow path of totality....

read more
Order photos