Inflection Point: Our Great American Challenge

Despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing economic crisis, we find ourselves at a time of great opportunity. We can communicate without boundaries literally at the speed of light, fabricate virtually anything we can imagine and even change our DNA. We have all of human history and knowledge at our fingertips and yet we are frighteningly in danger of falling victim to fear, hatred, bigotry, genocide, homicides and suicides in dizzying numbers.

We face a changing climate that threatens the lives and well-being of literally billions of human beings. Reason dictates that we make fundamental changes in the way we live. Climate friendly policies based upon science are not a threat to liberty and yet disinformation being spread by climate science deniers finds an audience in our polity. In the U.S. and elsewhere we find people divided with radically divergent world views, seemingly even differing views of reality, and very different understandings of the role that science and reason can and should play in our future.

Answers can be found in our roots as a nation. The Enlightenment that took place from roughly 1650 to 1830 was a time that prompted the use of reason, the scientific method, and progress. The United States of America grew out of enlightenment thinking. Spreading throughout the new world and Europe, the use of reason centered politically on the advancement of ideals such as liberty, tolerance, constitutional government and the separation of church and state. All of these are under assault today.

We need to draw a clear line in the sand if we are to avoid sliding even further into chaos. Science is not the enemy of a free people. Science and the rational action that flow from facts are what has enabled our Civilization to make hundreds of years of progress. We stand today at an inflection point no less profound than that confronted by our nation’s founders. We must find the courage and strength to push back against those who would use fear, hatred and bigotry to send us hurtling into a dark future that could potentially eclipse many of the darkest days of our past.

So what does an enlightened future look like from where we are today, and how does the American experiment in self-governance find a path on which reason prevails? The targets of opportunity for rational problem solving are numerous and clear and can be most easily understood in decidedly American terms: freedom from poverty and food insecurity, universal health care, climate remediation, tolerance and religious freedom, and a return to the rule of law and constitutional order. Approaches may vary but it is essential that we find ways to communicate with one another, focus and agree on desired outcomes.

The recent 2020 elections represent the beginning of a long road back for our American democracy. Will we overcome the politics of hate, division and personal destruction? Will we reject false equivalencies, agree on the facts and allow reason to prevail? The choice has never been clearer. The forces of darkness are using disinformation to stoke fear and create the false narrative that our elections don’t matter. The truth is that the choice we face is an existential one. Daunting sure, but we can choose civility over conflict. We can choose uniting as Americans over partisanship and tribalism. We can choose scientific answers over political ones, and we can choose the fundamental truth embodied in the words of our founders: that we are created equal and are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, among those being Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. We can choose in the spirit of Abraham Lincoln to follow our better angels. Together, leaving no group of our fellow humans behind.

As individuals, families, communities and as a nation, we are at the point of no return. There is no turning back. Only forward. We face unparalleled challenges in this time. The open question is: who will we choose to become, as Americans?