We Americans might be distinctly talented and proficient in rebuilding from the ground up. We were Jersey Strong after Superstorm Sandy. Boston Strong after the marathon bombings. New Orleans’ recovery from Katrina’s devastation, albeit slow and imperfect, took the combined strength of a truly united nation to pick up the pieces and start again—and we learned the hard way we can’t always rely on our leaders to direct us. We’re so good at rebuilding after utter destruction that we’ve even done it for our former enemies, in Japan and Germany, and, of late, in Iraq and Afghanistan.
How did we accomplish all these miracles of leading-edge engineering, despite the overwhelming odds? Mere elbow grease and the right tools in our belts? Trial and error? Confidence, in both senses of the word? Faith? Fearlessness in the face of risk?
A service mentality? Sure, all that was vital. But it wasn’t the main thing. No, we could never have soared to the heights and tunneled straight through every obstruction had we lacked a common VISION, a shared mission. Vision and leadership plus determination and know-how – the right team following a sensible and well-articulated plan – allows us all to realize the American Dream.
How else can you explain how a 13×2-mile island of bedrock and wildlife sold for a song to colonists by the Lenape Native American tribe evolved into the country’s biggest city by far? Brooklyn alone – my home town – if split from the other boroughs would still be the fourth largest city in America. Now put New York into the pot with all the other big cities and little towns in the 4,000 miles between Miami and North Pole,Alaska. In a mere nine generations, we grew from 3 million to more than 300 million.
Along the way we evolved from scrappy tenants to commanders of the freest, richest,
and most technologically advanced nation that has ever existed.
This didn’t just “happen.” It happened because we believed it could happen, and we backed up our belief with discipline, chutzpah, and the American work ethic. And we had leaders who laid out plans and sold them persuasively to the public. Guys like Eisenhower, Reagan, and Pataki. Or, let’s go back further to the Founding Fathers.
Talk about vision, leadership, and audacity. They really saw us this far ahead, at our
And now for the bad news. Despite our former glory, we’re in real trouble today.
Sure, some important aspects of our lives have improved dramatically over the past half-century—life spans, working conditions, civil rights, to name just a few. We still build huge, iconic buildings like 30 Park Place and 10 Hudson Yards. We innovate and dominate in tech. We’re still the envy of the world in many ways.
But what if we honestly inventory the magnificent feats we’ve achieved in the distant and recent past and contrast them with our current state? We find our country is, in fact, a relative disaster, just like the man says. Anyone who lands at LaGuardia or one of America’s other “third world” airports or drives to the Bronx from J.F.K. Airport knows this intuitively. Anyone who watches 10 minutes of cable news knows we’re buried up to our necks in acrimony and meanness, and many of our leaders have lost
their way—unless it’s the way to the bank vault or federal prison. Anyone who tries to get on a plane in a hurry, obtain a contractor’s license or a building permit, or get untangled from other sticky red tape knows we’ve got too much government—and it’s focused on all the wrong things.
Once again, folks, we have to start a major re-engineering project. We have to rebuild this country from the ground up.