The general mood in America is one of near exhaustion and some concern.
Since the spring of 2020, many have been stressed to the max: Tens of millions who feared or suffered the loss of their jobs or businesses; parents, with their children at home and not in school or childcare; kids losing some of the academic and socialization skills that were expected; almost everyone dreading that they and their loved ones might contract covid; and now, high grocery, gas, and other prices.
Our nerves are just about shot.
But despite all that, I am cautiously optimistic for America. Let me tell you why.
Start with the bipartisan infrastructure bill just signed into law by President Biden on November 15, after it passed the U.S. House of Representatives on November 5 and the U.S. Senate on August 10. We haven’t seen anything like it since Republican President Dwight Eisenhower passed his National Interstate and Defense Highways Act in 1956 and Democratic President Franklin Roosevelt enacted the New Deal from 1933 to 1939.
This new bill provides funding to address seaport bottlenecks; repair and rebuild our highways, roads and bridges; upgrade our passenger and freight rail; expand access to broadband; modernize and protect the nation’s power grid, airports, and water systems; remove and replace lead drinking water pipes; support public transit; and build more electric vehicle charging stations; to name a few. In addition, it gives New Jersey the federal dollars for the very-much-needed Gateway Tunnel project.
We now await the final votes on the Democrats’ reconciliation bill, otherwise known as the Human Infrastructure bill, which is being negotiated in Congress. That bill is designed to expand the nation’s social safety net and combat climate change by expanding Medicare benefits to include hearing coverage, federal funds for free or subsidized preschool and childcare, college tuition help, paid family leave, clean electricity, electric vehicles, home retrofits, public building and electrical infrastructure upgrades, and lower prescription drug prices.
These two initiatives will cost money and are paid for mostly by tax increases on the very wealthiest American corporations and individuals, and better enforcement against those who have refused to pay their taxes. They are intended — if we do them right–to create millions of good-paying jobs, improve Americans’ quality of life, give us a more favorable position to compete with our economic and military challengers, and be an engine for further economic growth.
According to the General Accounting Office, President Trump’s “Operation Warp Speed,” which began in May 2020, adopted several strategies for the U.S. government and private vaccine companies “to accelerate vaccine development against covid-19.” At the same time, however, the public’s understanding of the seriousness of the virus was significantly compromised by President Trump’s continual downplaying of the virus’ lethality.
In his first week in office, at the end of January 2021, President Biden directed federal agencies to use “all available legal authorities” to combat supply chain shortages, including invoking the Defense Production Act for supplies like personal protective equipment, testing kits, and syringes for vaccinations. He made clear that covid-19 was a real threat to all Americans and supported the opinion of the overwhelming majority of scientists on the subject.
As a result of these efforts, and the historic discovery of the vaccines and treatments by Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson and Johnson, and other researchers, as well as the heroic work of local, county, state, and federal health care workers, officials, and their staffs, America seems to be getting a handle on how to live, literally, with the presence of the covid virus among us. We are grateful for the advancements, but we still remember and mourn the 747,000 Americans who have died so far as a result of the virus. As of this writing, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 58.2 percent of Americans now are fully vaccinated against the disease, and that number is expected to rise substantially with the availability of the newly approved children’s vaccine.
The United States has gotten out of Afghanistan, albeit in a tense and unprecedented way, while rescuing 130,000 people in the process and maintaining, for now, a working relationship with Afghanistan’s Taliban government. We remain focused on al-Qaeda and ISIS. We have made compacts with China’s neighbors, including Australia, Japan, and India, that will help deter China from its most ambitious plans for economic and political domination. We have strengthened our NATO and other relationships that serve as a counterbalance to Russia. We have kept sanctions on Iran, while coordinating militarily and diplomatically with our Middle East and other partners to prevent Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapon. We have built upon the success of the Abraham Accords. And we have retaken our leadership role in bringing the world to take action against climate change.
And we no longer hold up to the world an American president who, in the words of Ann Coulter, is “a narcissistic, ridiculous, tacky, vulgar, arriviste” — that’s defined as “a person who is highly aggressive or perhaps unscrupulous in his or her climb to the top” — who has angrily denied the validity of America’s election results and tried with all his might to undo the peaceful succession of power here in the United States.
Gas prices and inflation
As for supply chain problems, higher gasoline prices, and inflation in general, most observers believe that these are the result of the release of pent-up demands upon a world economy that had contracted severely due to covid.
Many predict, including the World Bank, that these problems will continue to improve over the coming months as we gradually get covid under control, global manufacturing continues to come back, truck drivers’ wages and working conditions are upgraded, and the world’s economy regains its strength.
According to the Washington Post, the U.S. cost of living increased in 2021, on average, 6.2 percent as compared with last year, with the costs of different items going up at different rates. In response to the public’s concerns, the Biden administration announced that 17 Nobel Prize winners in economics have said that his Human Infrastructure Plan will “ease inflationary pressures” and pointed to the facts that in October 2021, U.S. jobs grew by 532,000, unemployment fell from 4.8 percent to 4.6 percent, and average hourly earnings were up 5.1 percent for the year.
Given the above, there is good reason for anxiety, as even the best intended plans can fail to deliver due to unforeseen circumstances, breakdowns in execution, or simply wrong calculations.
But the facts, and my gut, tell me that America is moving up and forward, and that next year will be an even better year for our country.
Our country needs to act to improve our country, and we are doing so.
Steady as we go.
Steven R. Rothman of Englewood is the former eight-term U.S. congressman from New Jersey (1997 to 2013). He also is a former judge, mayor, and practicing attorney.