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Crossroads: Neil Armstrong’s Death Meets the Republican War on Science
As points of reference in history, it is not unusual to label a specific time span according to advancements in human history such as the Enlightenment, Reformation, or the digital age. The news yesterday that Neil Armstrong passed away at the age of 82 reminded many Americans of the phenomenal success of the space program, and the courageous man who, in service to his country, put his life on the line in the name of scientific exploration that defined this nation’s commitment to a cause and ability to achieve a seemingly impossible goal of putting a man on the Moon. It is unfortunate, but Armstrong’s passing seems to coincide with the end of American exceptionalism and signals the beginning of a new era in American history that, if Republicans have their way, rejects science, technological advancement, and social progress and replaces them with religion.
The moon landing and Armstrong’s statement ”That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind” defined an era as well as the notion that America could accomplish any feat if the country was united in a cause and unafraid to invest time and resources in a worthy venture. The era also ushered in social change that produced the Civil Rights movement, feminist movement, and programs to combat poverty and destruction of the environment. It was the important era that revolutionized women’s lives with safe, reliable birth control that released them from domestic servitude as perpetual birth machines and allowed them to pursue higher education and independent lives. The sixties and seventies was the era of seemingly endless possibilities that gave all Americans reason to believe anything was possible living in the greatest country on Earth, but as sure as Neil Armstrong passed away yesterday, the America his accomplishments represented is dead.
Except for the technology that produced the digital age, America has not made any noteworthy technological or social advancements since the 1970s that are unrelated to war and corporate greed. It is sad that the country that put Neil Armstrong on the surface of the Moon is embarking on a backward trajectory defined by religious zealotry and corporate greed, and the root cause is Republican conservatism hell-bent on creating an oligarchy and transforming America into a theocracy.
America is the richest and most powerful country in the history of the world, and yet there are record numbers of Americans living in poverty and struggling to survive as a very small group of wealthy families control an ever-growing percentage of the wealth and resources at the behest of Republicans. Conservatives claim America is broke and cannot afford to invest in scientific research, or assist American citizens with healthcare, food, and shelter, but they seem to find billions of dollars to give to the wealthiest Americans, the oil industry, and the military industrial complex. The Republican Party has made every attempt to undo the social changes that gave every American equal rights and an opportunity to achieve the so-called American Dream, and in just the past year, they have set out to send women, minorities, and the poor back to the 1950s, as well as eliminate social programs that gave seniors a secure retirement; all in the name of fiscal conservatism and religious liberty.
Republicans have rejected scientific research and development that could revolutionize medicine out of religious superstition, and they have demonized climate science out of allegiance to the energy industry. It is stunning that the technological leader of the entire world that just put a mobile scientific laboratory on the planet Mars is falling behind every industrialized nation in clean energy technology because Republicans are indebted to the fossil fuel industry that is responsible for record heat waves and droughts ravaging this country’s agriculture industry. Three days ago, the presumptive Republican presidential candidate laid out an energy plan devoid of green or renewable energy sources and included plans to repeal the Environmental Protection Agency’s clean air and water standards to give the oil and coal industry free rein to despoil the environment and perpetuate the conditions that are responsible for global climate change. The biggest medical advancement that freed women and gave them opportunities women from the 1950s could only dream of is one election away from being illegal as Republicans attempt to impose fanatical Christian prohibitions on contraception. It is unclear why any American longs to return to the 1950s, but America is going back as sure as Neil Armstrong passed away yesterday.
Maybe it is fitting that Neil Armstrong passed away as America is returning to the 1950s, and it is tragic that the era that allowed him to walk on the moon only lasted a little over twenty years. America could have achieved exceptional feats if not for one catastrophic election that put a man in the White House who convinced Americans that government was bad and spending on anything other than the war and the rich was tantamount to mortal sin. Ronald Reagan ushered in the conservative movement that, after thirty years, is responsible for taking America back to the 1950s, and except for a handful of progressives, the nation is going back with hardly a whimper. Republicans have convinced enough Americans that science, women, social programs, and equal rights are evil, and that the nation’s resources are better spent on wealthy industrialists and weapons of war, that it is a just a matter of time before accomplishments like safe contraceptives, affordable healthcare, and clean energy are as remote as putting a man on the moon was in 1950 when women were birth machines, minorities were second-class citizens, and voting was for whites only. At least in the 1950s, unlike today, the threat of theocracy was non-existent. Rest in peace Neil Armstrong…and America.