Suppose we all stood up at exactly the same minute, from Maine to Hawaii, and shouted at the top of our lungs: Infrastructure!
Would it make any difference? Not likely.
You-know-who would probably be tweeting about how badly he is treated, and we’d all be ignored. Again.
As danger, misery and heartache in the form of Hurricane Harvey plague those we love in Texas and Louisiana, we hear again and again that if aging reservoirs, pot-holed roads, outmoded drains and weathered water treatment plants had been in better shape, things might be a little better despite more than 51 inches of rain. The deja vu feelings, so long after Hurricane Katrina, are enough to make us despair.
All over this vast country, things are falling apart. Let alone disaster relief, this is affecting our daily commutes, business opportunities and job availability, with American companies refusing to open new plants in America.
Modernizing our infrastructure — roads, bridges, ports, waterworks, cybersystems, et cetera — was supposed to be doable. Even with Republicans and Democrats barely on speaking terms (that was before the Republican Senate majority leader and the Republican president stopped speaking), fixing our broken infrastructure was an agreed-upon goal, a vital and imperative need.
We knew it would cost at least a trillion dollars and probably much more. But the prospect of modernizing this great country to face the future and compete more strongly with mighty China, for example, made even the cold hearts on Wall Street beat faster.
So is Congress considering infrastructure legislation? Has the president proposed sweeping, detailed plans after promising he would do so? Is he using the bully pulpit to persuade Americans that this is the most important thing we as a nation can do for our children? Are legislators working hard behind the scenes trying to figure out a public-private partnership?
You know the answers. No to all of the above.
But President Donald Trump did rush to Texas three days after the hurricane struck, somehow managing to not see a single raindrop, shake the hand of a single victim, or mention a single first responder by name — not even the one who died. Trump seems to not have a single drop of human empathy in his entire being. Even as the rains came down and first responders went door to door rescuing stranded families, Trump was speculating on when he and other politicians would be able to congratulate each other on a job well done.
And even earlier, days before Hurricane Harvey hit, Trump signed orders reversing federal regulations aimed at making infrastructure more impervious to flooding. Former President Barack Obama had ordered the federal government to take into account flooding risks and sea-level rise caused by climate change when building or rebuilding after disasters. Could Trump give a good rationale for such a heartless, short-sighted action? No. Consequently, many of the billions of dollars that will be spent on rebuilding after Hurricane Harvey and future disasters will be wasted and won’t prevent future weather emergencies or mitigate the damage they cause.
Despite all that, we are once again amazed, uplifted and heartened at how wonderfully kind, good-hearted and generous Americans are to each other in times of destitution and desperation. Friend helping friend. Neighbor helping neighbor. Stranger helping stranger. And the first responders! Wow! True heroes. Over and over, the victims try to stop feeling sorry for themselves by one observation: So many people are worse off than they are.
But once the adrenaline stops pumping, the bleakness of thousands of people who have lost everything will become far more poignant and widespread. The knowledge that Trump has decreed that federal standards for rebuilding not take into account future disasters will be even more maddening.
Let’s hope the Republicans who control Congress will find the backbones they mislaid after the election and undo what the feckless Trump has wrought.
Our rallying cry? Fix our infrastructure and do it right!
Ann McFeatters is a columnist for Tribune News Service.