Op-Ed: The America of 2021

Opinion by and
Jan. 25, 2011, 12:04 a.m.

The haunting mixture of hope and apprehension, excitement and uncertainty, that marks the arrival of each new year has come and gone. In a blur, the first three weeks of winter quarter have disappeared. Yet imagine for a moment that the new year is not 2011, but 2021.

To young students like us, that year seems impossibly far away. But those who are further along in life’s journey know that 10 years can pass in a blink of an eye, leaving only nostalgia and regret in their wake. The question remains only of what we will do with that precious time.

So what world will greet us when the digits “2-0-2-1” stand emblazoned in front of Times Square’s ball? As we begin our 30s, Sept. 11 will be a distant two decades past. Our parents will be among the more than 50 million Americans older than 65. And, if we do not press our representatives to make wise choices in the years ahead, the United States will likely be a mere shell of its former self.

Since the start of the financial crisis, the stewards of our nation have failed utterly in their duty to make decisions that act toward the betterment of our country rather than the enrichment of its oligarchy. They have acted selfishly and recklessly by allowing the national debt to reach a predicted $20 trillion by 2021, much of which will be owed to hostile foreign powers. They have replaced reason with partisanship, ensuring that endless, useless bickering silences rationality and innovation on every occasion. And they have dug in their heels at a time when only sweeping, unprecedented reform can save this country from total collapse. The United States of America, as resilient and powerful as it is, simply cannot endure another decade of this sickening chicanery.

Should you think this description of the present situation is somewhat overblown, allow me to offer you some additional figures. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has reported that 46 states are facing budget shortfalls this fiscal year totaling $112 billion, leaving Alaska, Arkansas, Montana and North Dakota as the only states in the union with their fiscal houses in order. Unfunded state and local public pension liabilities, according to a recent New York Times article, total a mind-blowing $3.6 trillion. Newsweek’s report last summer on the “best countries in the world” awarded America’s education system 26th place internationally, 12 notches below Kazakhstan, based on international standardized test scores. And the American Society of Civil Engineers’ annual Report Card for America’s Infrastructure gave us a miserable “D” in that arena last fall.

It is easy to glaze over these statistics without processing them, but the problems they quantify can no longer be ignored or wished away. These numbers are hard, unforgiving, objective indicators of the future that we will inherit if we do not act now, swiftly and decisively. If it is our responsibility to improve this world for the benefit of our descendants—and I believe it is—then we can no longer afford to let shortsightedness continue to rule the day.

A solution will begin to arise only when all of us emerge from our apathy, rise together in a show of overwhelming force and say as one, “We demand sanity.” We demand the end of earmarks, lame duck legislation, recess appointments and other political sleight of hand that flagrantly disrespects the constitution. We demand a sustainable health care system that provides for the needy without annihilating our fiscal well-being. We demand an education system worthy of our children’s time and our proud history. And we demand that the voice of the entire American people be heard and respected rather than dismissed as the rabble of the hoi polloi.

Until you and I demand all this, together, nothing will change. And anything short of a radical rethinking and restructuring of the leviathan that is the United States government will lead only to a delayed recurrence of the same problems that plague us today. So rise up, break through the Stanford bubble, and make a difference while you still can. The world of 2021 depends on it.

Jonathan Gelbart ’11

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