The BDN Opinion section operates independently and does not set newsroom policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.
Amy Fried is chair of the Department of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views are her own and do not represent those of any group with which she is affiliated.
The signs of the season are upon us. My vegetable garden has been tilled and planted. Peonies and other perennials are growing; some have already flowered and more will yet bloom.
Tourists, too, are back in Maine. They’re watching waves crash by the coast and climbing (and swatting blackflies) at Baxter State Park. In Bangor, I see them in front of Stephen King’s house, gaping at the gates and the sculptures and taking selfies.
As the seasons shift, our economy is also growing and social interactions are reviving. I’ve broken bread with friends. And I’ve visited my elderly mother in New York for the first time since late February 2020. What a blessing it is to be able to hug her.
As the process of returning to normalcy unfolds, we should acknowledge that our recovery depended on people taking responsibility and that productive growth, whether in our gardens or society, depends on taking care.
As a character of playwright William Shakespeare observed, “Now ’tis the spring, and weeds are shallow-rooted; Suffer them now, and they’ll o’ergrow the garden; And choke the herbs for want of husbandry.”
Everyday folks did their part to stop the spread of the pandemic but political leadership also mattered. After former president Donald Trump downplayed the virus, President Joe Biden put systems in place to distribute and administer the vaccine.
Maine has been in the forefront of getting people vaccinated, in no small part due to competent leadership from Gov. Janet Mills and state Maine Center for Disease Control Director Nirav Shah.
Still, among unvaccinated people, case rates are as high as they were at the national peak for the whole population, leaving our recovery tenuous and incomplete.
This can be a time when we create a new season of strength — but we’ll lose the opportunity for growth if we don’t take further steps.
Government can contribute to research and development. That’s why after World War II, the federal government created the National Science Foundation. It also made massive investments in infrastructure and in higher education, paid for with far higher marginal tax rates.
No one should see that time as perfect. For, while there was greater economic equality than there is now, before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, racial and sex discrimination were legal. The social and political movements of today have their roots in the contentious politics seeking change in unjust practices. But there was an understanding that governments can create greater growth and opportunity.
Now we face new choices.
As President Biden contended when speaking in Cleveland a few weeks ago, the United States is at an “inflection point” at which our nation could flourish and become healthier and more competitive or lose strength and fall behind. As Biden pointed out, in three decades we’ve gone from second to ninth in investments in research and development as a share of our economy while China has moved up from eighth to second.
One path is toward greater economic inequality and discontent. The other, proposed by Biden, is to plan with the principle that we “all do better when we all do well. And the best way to grow our economy is from the bottom up and the middle out.”
Another choice for our nation is whether we stand up for voting rights and, relatedly, for a system that delivers for ordinary people. As a letter signed by hundreds of scholars (including me) warns “When democracy breaks down, it typically takes many years, often decades, to reverse the downward spiral. In the process, violence and corruption typically flourish, and talent and wealth flee to more stable countries, undermining national prosperity.”
What we cannot do is pretend that further inaction will yield good results.
Ignoring weeds does not make them go away. In order to reap a bountiful harvest, we have to improve our soil and cultivate what we’ve sown — whether in our gardens or among the people of our land. That approach will create a new season of strength for the United States.