COMMENTARY: The Black Range west of Truth or Consequences is a sacred place with a rich history. Apaches called these mountains home. Americans mined them. On a hike you’re likely to see more deer than people.
But the forest is tired. The trees are overgrown. They creak and groan in a breeze. Fallen trees that have succumbed to drought cover some hillsides. The 2013 Silver Fire wiped out 139,000 acres of pines. In some areas they aren’t regrowing.
That forest illustrates what’s happening to our society.
U.S. Sen. John McCain said in December that Russian interference in last year’s presidential election “is the sign of a possible unraveling of the world order that was established after World War II, which has made one of the most peaceful periods in the history of the world.”
I think the Republican senator from Arizona understates the problem.
The world is dramatically and rapidly changing. Capitalism and globalization have enabled more people and societies to compete in the world economy. Technology has connected us in ways never before possible. Our planet’s warming requires challenging adaptation.
In the United States, our infrastructure is crumbling. At a time when we need to invest in broadband internet to connect rural communities and help businesses, we aren’t even keeping up with road and bridge maintenance.
That’s just one tangible sign of how many major problems are piling up. Some others: The middle class is shrinking. Our national debt is out of control. Government pension funds and Social Security are headed toward insolvency. Government corruption is rampant. The uber-wealthy across ideology, such as George Soros, Michael Bloomberg and the Koch brothers, are exerting greater control over what issues appear on our ballots and who wins our elections. Meanwhile, the Fourth Estate, whose mission of enabling an informed citizenry is even more critical given that oligarchical trend, continues to shrink.
Our response to the changing world has been to divide and fight over what’s left of the old. Americans are more polarized today than at any point in modern history.
“If you go back to the days of the Civil War, one can find cases in American political history where there was far more rancor and violence,” Shanto Iyengar, a Stanford political scientist, was recently quoted by The New York Times as saying. “But in the modern era, there are no ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ — partisan animus is at an all-time high.”
The result? We’re tearing up the values and structures that hold our nation together. Like the forest in the Black Range, the influence of the wealthy in our society is overgrown and being used to divide us. Our people are stretched too thin, unhealthy and tired like the trees.
America is far from perfect but has overall been a force for positive change. That’s because our government is structured to encourage entrepreneurship, communication and compromise. It’s because of our historic commitment to work together.
That’s all breaking down. America is creaking and groaning, just like the trees in the Black Range. Some scientists believe that pine forest may vanish. Nature is correcting bad human policy and adapting to a changing reality.
The United States is also in danger of vanishing. We have a choice: work together to adapt and grow or continue letting our problems pile up until we collapse under their weight.
The world is changing, with or without us.