THE PIT AND THE PHOENIX

Our beloved country has sunk into the pits. How do rise again? How do we return America to greatness? Where the hell do we start this national re-engineering project? Collectively, we’ve got a list of, say, a dozen or so major calamities occurring simultaneously, including a broken body politic, a cultural calamity, a disintegrating critical infrastructure, and a lack of funds to execute any truly big ideas. And we can’t just blame the government—we, the people, are responsible. We have some work to do, too. We’re rude to each other, often uncaring. We steal from our own brothers and sisters. We allow sloppiness to pollute our environment. Some of us daily demonstrate unpatriotic ideas and actions. It doesn’t help that we have a less-than- ideal actor at the top, modeling the worst of us.

So how are we supposed to triage those problems in order of importance and worthiness of our time, money, and human resources? And how exactly do we get to work once we have prioritized? Don’t we have to bulldoze a lot of crap away before we uncover solid ground upon which to rebuild? Finally, what meaningful part can any individual play in soothing our nasty national wounds?

Surely deciding all that based on our respective parties’ ideology has not worked so far. Sure, good, old-fashioned Conservative values and beliefs COULD save us. But we’re all frozen by the knowledge that things are getting worse. Look around. Nobody’s minding the store. There’s no room for Pollyanna on our planning board, but neither do we want “Debbie Downer” at the table. We have to first believe we can pull ourselves out of these doldrums. Then we have to act and act fast to untangle the knottiest of these problems, to begin to debride and heal the worst of our festering lesions.

We need a model, an example of how we came together to resolve some massive challenge in relatively short order. Something really big. Contemporary. A paradigm for all the steps needed to solve major difficulties. Basically, we’d need the exemplar instance of converting rubble into gold, of turning a pit and pile into an emblem of accomplishment against impossible odds.

Such an example towers over our most populous and visited city. After September 11, 2001, we managed, albeit often contentiously and never without struggle, to rebuild on holy ground an icon not only of survival, but of triumph. I wish those assholes who attacked us had never been born—but they helped us prove something essential about our nature. We can survive—anything.

Since that time, I’ve thought long and hard about the intense process we went through to turn a mark of victimhood into a symbol of prosperity and defiance. If you’ll allow an old man a modicum of pride, it could have been my greatest legacy to have served on the team that saw that new tower finally, boldly erected. But ever since the first blush of excitement died down after I saw the 1,776-foot model of our success opened to the public on November 3 rd , 2014, I understood we need to re-engineer all of America with the same breed of revolutionary social movement we used to rebuild Lower Manhattan—From the ground up, one brick at a time.

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