PUBLIC RANCOR and divisiveness are palpable. Any public comment risks being twisted and turned like a pretzel into something it is not. But we need to continue to have critical dialogues as a society. As one famous politician stated, “The antidote to bad speech is more speech, not less.”
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The loudest voices are trying to tell Americans that the last four years were a disaster and that nothing constructive or positive took place. While much of the vitriol is targeted at one individual, in reality, it condemns us all. We are all Americans and the successes, or the failures, of the last four years, do not rest with one person, but with all of us.
Considering the accomplishments of the past four years, there is plenty we can all take pride in. That does not mean we must be proud of everything, or even most things. But we can find many things that all Americans can be proud of if we stop to reflect.
Since there is no way to list every accomplishment, I will focus on a few.
Who can forget the pre-pandemic roaring economy? Help-wanted signs were as popular as political signs during a New Hampshire presidential primary. The bottom 50% of American households saw a 40% increase in net worth, and the percentage of families that moved into the middle class was historic. The boom reached places never seen before, lifting 7 million people off food stamps and gave us record unemployment and wage growth in our minority communities, including Hispanic and Black communities.
Here’s a term you have not heard in a while, OPEC. There have been no threats of skyrocketing gasoline or heating oil prices, no concern that Middle East turmoil would disrupt our daily routines. That is because, for the first time in 70 years, the United States accomplished energy independence and became a net energy exporter — producing more energy than we use. And get this, we did it while at the same time reducing emission pollutants by 7% and CO2 emissions by 12% while the rest of the world saw increases of 24%.
Anyone remember ISIS and the Islamic State? We can all be happy that our brave men and women who had been deployed in Syria four years ago were able to celebrate Christmas with their families this year. Remember the threat of North Korea, particularly to the West Coast? They are still there, and periodically rattle their sabers, but we are not hearing nearly as much from them these days.
The First Step Act reversed, arguably, one of our worst pieces of legislation for the Black community in 40 years. The disproportionate treatment of the Black community for crimes committed was simply not right. Our work here is not done, as evidenced by the top news headlines from 2013, 2015, and 2020, all of which remind us of untimely deaths of young Black men.
When many said it could not be done, we saw historic peace agreements between Israel and Arab-Muslim countries, including the United Arab Emirates, the Kingdom of Bahrain, and Sudan, bringing progress and restoring a hope of peace where it had so long been elusive.
Unfortunately, Americans learned a number of new terms in the last nine months. We now regularly talk of social distancing, PPE, and community spread. And, while it is easy to Monday-morning quarterback the pandemic response, no one will soon forget the term Warp Speed, describing the incredible American ingenuity and commitment that brought us a vaccine in less than half the time anyone thought possible.
We Americans are a proud lot and we have much to be proud of, including many of the things we accomplished over the last four years. It does not mean that we agree on everything, or even most things. But we have a roadmap for engagement and that begins with dialogue and civility.
What we all want is a bright and hopeful future for our families, our children and our grandchildren.
We can pretend that nothing good came from the last four years, but by doing so we only condemn ourselves. The last four years is as American as the next four will be. I still remember after the 9-11 attacks how fiercely the country came together, setting aside differences to defend our constitutional republic.
Let’s remember the principles that brought this great nation together to begin with, and continue to make them part of our life.
Frank Edelblut is commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Education.