It is past time for us as Americans to have our vision checked. No, not our eyesight, but our inner sight. How do we envision our nation after Covid? Can we recast our national priorities from surviving a pandemic to rebuilding a nation? Can we embrace and act on some of the lessons we have learned during our isolation in our personal lives and our isolation from other nations.
For instance, on the personal front, the necessity of making a high-quality and universal child-care system part of our economic infrastructure has become clear, as has the need for universal single-payer health care. Our idea of essential workers is no longer limited to public safety officers, medical personnel, and high-level executives. It now includes those people who keep our economy functioning by providing life-sustaining services: the women and men who stock and serve us in grocery stores; the Uber, Lyft, and public transportation workers; the men and women who keep power coming into our homes and offices; teachers; and the agricultural workers who begin the process of getting our food out of the farms, fields and orchards and into our homes. All of these people have demonstrated that their work is essential to us individually and to our nation’s economy. They should all be paid a living rather than subsistence wage.
Internationally, a death-dealing virus has shown us the danger of ignoring the health of our inter-connected planet, both in terms of the physical environment and in our relationships with other nations. Our sense of American exceptionalism has been severely challenged. In the last three years we have walked away from our role as a world leader, and the virus has given us a strong dose of payback and humility. It is humbling when you see yourself as the best, the strongest, the invincible and then get knocked on your rear by an invisible force. The virus beat us. New Zealand beat us. Germany, France, Ireland, Italy, Norway, South Korea, Pakistan, Hungry and others are beating us.
Restore Relationships with Allies
As we Americans begin to rebuild in the post-Covid world, we need to reevaluate our relationships with allies, with each other and with the natural world. We need to see ourselves as integral parts of a world community, both internally and externally. We need to reject the policy that President Donald Trump articulated in his 2017 inaugural address: “We are issuing a new decree to be heard in every city and every foreign capitol and every hall of power. From this day forward a new vision will govern our land…from this day forward it is going to be only America First––America First.”
His implementation of this decree has severely set back America’s standing in the world, destroyed our economy and limited our ability to unite with other nations in a fight against outside threats such as Covid; or Russia; or China.
FDR’s Four Freedoms
Contrast President Trump’s “only America First” doctrine with the words spoken by Franklin Roosevelt in his 1941 address to Congress: “In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression—everywhere in the world. The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way—everywhere in the world.
“The third is freedom from want—which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants—everywhere in the world. The fourth is freedom from fear—which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor—anywhere in the world.
“That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called new order of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb.” In the midst of a world war against tyrannical foes, President Roosevelt understood that a secure future for the United States was dependent on the people of every nation enjoying the same freedoms we seek for ourselves.
This is as true today as it was in 1941. Americans should accept the fact we have been humbled by our Covid failures and eagerly join other nations in the world’s war against a disease. Let’s clear our inner vision to see possibilities at home and abroad that cannot be passed off to a distant millennium. Let us clearly see the possibilities that can grow in the good soil of friendship and cooperation with our neighbors abroad. And let us envision our nation as the place of freedom, justice and equality that inspired our founding generation. If we can envision it, we can make it “attainable in our own time and generation.”
Bill Jamieson’s career has included leadership positions in business, government, and education. He was also an ordained deacon in the Episcopal Church and his ministry centered around advocacy for low-income families and children.