We live in a world in which only the fittest will survive and prosper. This is a basic law of nature, and it applies to nations just the same as it applies to the creatures of the jungle.
America has, for the past 100+ years, been the strongest nation in the world, and all of us have prospered because of our position of strength. It didn’t happen all at once. A series of smart decisions, many of them made more than 50 years ago, all led to today’s position as the world’s one true superpower. But we live in dangerous times, and our long term position is at risk. While these risks may not impact anyone over 75, they will impact our children, and their children and so on down the generations. As adults, we must do our part to protect and preserve the viability of this country so that our children and grandchildren may thrive.
Lets talk for a bit about Risk Management. Risk Management is the science of identifying risks, prioritizing the most severe, and developing strategies to either avoid them or mitigate their impacts. This strategy is employed every day in business and by our military. But we never seem to apply it to the most important topic – the long term success of the United States.
So what are the biggest risks to the future of American greatness over the next 25-50 years? If you were to watch Fox News or read Breitbart, you’d think the biggest risks are radical Islam, immigration, and North Korea. Let’s examine the risks posed to the existence of the US by each of them.
Radical Islam (Al-Qaeda, ISIS, Taliban, etc.) clearly poses a threat to the lives of ordinary Americans. They have killed thousands of American civilians (mostly on September 11, 2001) over the past 20 or so years. But do they pose a threat to the American nation? Hardly. Taken collectively, they could never defeat even a small fraction of the mightiest military that the world has ever known. Nor do they have nuclear weaponry that can take out American cities and devastate our economy. They have to be classified as a low-priority risk to the US.
Immigration is seen by some to pose a threat to our very way of life. But, as a nation of immigrants, those who are here have always been suspicious of the next group who are different. Just as there were fears of the papist Irish, the ignorant Slavs from Eastern Europe, and the orientals, now there are fears of Hispanics, Africans, and especially Moslems. Unchecked and completely unimpeded immigration would be a risk to the US. But we haven’t had that since 1924, and nobody is advocating such a thing. What we have had over the past 90 years is a slow but steady influx of new, dynamic, risk taking people who come to America because they believe this is the land of opportunity and freedom. And this level of immigration has been a good thing, revitalizing, renewing and continuing to diversify America in ways that are true to our core principles. This doesn’t mean that there are no casualties from immigration – of course there are. We need to address those issues and fix them. But controlled immigration is not a threat to the existence of the US – in fact it adds much more to the success of this country than it costs. As long as we keep doing basically what we’ve been doing since 1924, immigration is a low-priority (or maybe non-existent) risk to the US.
North Korea clearly does propose a real risk to the US. Given that is has nuclear weapons, ICBMs, and a stridently belligerent leader, a level of risk cannot be denied. But what is the level of risk? Can they destroy enough of America to bring about the collapse of our government or destruction of our economy? This answer is probably no for now, but possibly changes to yes in a few short years. So this is a risk. And although the past six Presidents have seen it as such, it has continued to grow from a small risk to a much greater risk. The Trump administration clearly recognizes the risk, but as of yet they do not seem to have developed a strategy to mitigate or avoid it. North Korea is a risk and should be a top concern.
But there are other risks to the future of America that the Trump Administration is ignoring. The biggest long term risks to the US are elimination of our free institutions, and climate change.
The government of a democratic nation by definition represents the will of the people. But what if outside forces can bend the will of the people without their knowledge, or worse yet, subvert the will of the people by manipulating elections. If that is the case, then the “democratic” nation is merely a puppet state of another nation. There is no question that, in 2016, Russia attempted to bend the will of the people through propaganda and subvert the will of the people by altering votes. And they succeeded. So now we have an administration, and numerous members of Congress who have been elected on the basis of Russian manipulation. And not surprisingly, they have no interest in investigating this issue or dosing anything from preventing it from happening again. This is a true threat to the independence of the United States. As Russia gets better and smarter at hacking and manipulating the electorate, Republicans do nothing, hoping that once again the Russians will back them. And when the President and his allies cast doubts upon the independent reporting of a free press, they are further playing into the hands of the Russians. These actions pose the greatest short-term threat to the independence of America.
Luckily, the foundational institutions of our democracy, the FBI, CIA, Justice system, and elections system, have great internal integrity due to the patriotism of their apolitical employees. But they are all under attack by Trump and his allies (knowingly or unknowingly) on behalf of the Russians. All Americans who believe in the independence of this nation must do their part to take back our democracy. At a minimum, they must vote – against those who want to destroy our independent free press, our independent judicial system, and our independent elections. They must vote against all Russian-backed candidates – which today means they must vote against Republicans. And all who can must do more to spread the word.
If we can overcome the short-term risk of Russian manipulation, then we must confront the long term risk to America, and to the planet from climate change. Climate change is real and we are feeling its initial impacts already. But much more is to come. Changes in weather patterns will lead to widespread droughts which will lead to widespread famine. Sea level rise will lead to coastal inundation which will cause massive displacement of people worldwide. These impacts will be exacerbated by overpopulation and destruction of the natural environment. While these impacts will be fall the hardest on those nations that have the least resources, there will be no escaping them in the US. It is imperative that our government focus all possible energy on developing long term strategies to both minimize the severity of climate change and to mitigate its impacts. This is the biggest threat to the future of America. We need to act as if we care.