The spectacle of Houston, America’s fourth-largest city, under water and partially in ruins should serve as a sharp wake-up call to America in terms of the challenges it identifies and presents.
First, it doesn’t matter whether one believes that climate change is human-produced, at least in part, and thus subject to being mitigated, or not. The fact of the matter is that America is showing itself catastrophically vulnerable to what nature seemingly increasingly is getting up to. There was Hurricane Andrew in Florida, Katrina in New Orleans and now Harvey in Houston and Louisiana. Something clearly needs to be done for America’s Southeast.
That raises the question of whether America wants to shift its priorities and start spending money on fixing our infrastructure or adjusting it to meet imminent future challenges — or whether it wants to continue spending on endless wars and nation-building in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen.
There is waste and foolishness in our actual responses to disasters. A shocking amount of the money of the Federal Emergency Management Agency gets spent on rebuilding dwellings and businesses more than once in exposed areas. One element in a new look at America’s vulnerability to storms, floods and other natural disasters should be on seeing to it that areas in danger don’t get rebuilt as if the danger were over.
Apart from the major review of America’s priorities that the disaster in Houston demands, there will also be the nearer-to-hand challenge to the federal government to somehow get past its absurd gridlock. Money must be found and voted to deal with the Houston challenge. But the Republicans and the Democrats, Congress and the president, must also pass a budget, raise the national debt ceiling, and at least begin work on what is left of President Donald Trump’s agenda, including, particularly in light of what is happening in the Southeast, the big infrastructure bill he pledged.
If nothing else, Americans’ focus on the tragedy in Houston, and their generous response to the needs of the suffering people there, should make their tolerance of more wrangling about health care and money-fueled lobbying about a new tax law run thin. Dealing with the problems at home is not impossible, at all, but it will require a larger vision of our country on the part of our ostensible leaders.