The United States has a history of big, bold initiatives. Americans as individuals, however, have largely forgotten them. The New Deal is barely taught in school, most students do not understand why the United States fought World War II, and the Apollo space program might be remembered as an okay Tom Hanks film. Yet, big challenges and ideas have been at the core of American exceptionalism—itself a barely-remembered concept—since the founding of the Republic.
Today, in the shadow of a devastating pandemic and what might have been the most divisive election in the nation’s history, we are again faced with very serious challenges. But unlike most of the earlier challenges—threats to our freedom, economic hardships, natural disasters—we do not see ourselves as “one nation under God.” We are divided, mistrustful, angry, and probably far more fearful than we want to admit.