Adirondack Chronicles 2022.2: American Regeneration
Early on the morning of July 15, 1995, a loud noise woke me up in a cabin in the Adirondacks. A roaring of wind, followed by an eerie silence. I stepped outside to see a landscape transformed — trees blown down all over, a scene of great destruction. A derecho (a windstorm) blew through, leveling the forest, killing 5 campers, disrupting roads and power and telephones for many miles. I remember driving along Route 30 from Long Lake to Tupper Lake and seeing the flattened forest — in just a few minutes, nearly a million trees blew down in a wild pathway from Ontario across New York State. Today, when I drive that same road, I see a forest almost completely recovered (see photo above, where the trees once were all flattened), the new growth rising high above the deadfalls left behind in the “forever wild” forest preserve.
What lesson does the Ontario-Adirondack Derecho of 1995 have for America on this Independence Day in 2022? These United States have suffered a series of very destructive derechos this year and all across the last decade — the rise of a distinctively authoritarian rightwing movement, the emergence of virulent white supremacy, appalling police brutality against Black persons, political insurrection, nearly a million people dead in the pandemic, and now, a Supreme Court that is the consequence of the authoritarian movement swiftly abolishing long-cherished rights. Predictions of the end of the Great American Experiment fill the airwaves while Democrats dither, righteous conservatives gloat, and most citizens turn away from the political theater in disgust while shaking angry fists at the gas pumps.
America in the midst of its derecho season is an unhappy place, fearful and angry and bitter over issues that a calmer, more rational nation might handle more sensibly. Not in 2022, when we have Twitter and Instagram and TikTok and YouTube to absorb and then shout out our mistrust, hatred and rabid disagreement with just about anything and everything we don’t like.
The wild forest regenerated after great destruction. The process took years for the seeds of new trees to sprout and grow; the process is ongoing, never quite complete. But the Adirondack forest regenerated thanks in large part to careful forest management guided by the “forever wild” law that prevented clearing the destruction, but, instead, allowed the new growth to emerge from the blowdown.
I have enough faith in our nation to believe that America will regenerate after this moment of terrible chaos and destruction. But regeneration will require careful management of the seeds of our democracy — the ability to speak and act with freedom, a more thoughtful and considered exercise of restraint to allow argumentation without anger, and a willingness on the part of government to be a robust steward of the necessary elements of regeneration including the protection of voting rights, respect for the Constitutionally mandated processes of governance, restraint on those who would exercise authoritarian control, rejection of the tyranny of special interests.
The men who signed the Declaration of Independence were not radicals hurling bombs from the streets; they were landowners and publishers and gentry; all white men including slaveowners; deeply flawed men whose interests were as much economic as philosophical. We can point out their endless failings, but one thing is clear: their courageous actions in that hot July summer of 1776 spawned a revolution in favor of democracy and freedom that continues to this day.
The stewardship of 1776 continued across generations as Americans in each era rose to the challenges that threatened this nation’s future. The wars fought against foreign assailants were terrible, but the worst war of all was the Civil War, a gash in American history that never really healed. America’s recent traumas reveal that the Civil War continued in many ways, not only persistently limiting the freedom and justice due to Black Americans, but debilitating the ability of all citizens to live in peace.
We the People — today’s generation of American citizens — we are the current stewards of the movement that began on July 4, 1776. We owe it to our history and to the future to work harder to ensure the ability of our democracy to regenerate itself after this era of so much destruction. We can start by exercising the most fundamental obligation of citizenship — to vote in every single election. Elections matter, as we now know from the results of a Supreme Court filled with justices appointed by a president elected by a minority of citizens. Had the millions of people who failed to vote in 2016 done so, the results we experience today might have been far different. A commentator recently wrote, and I agree — the greatest danger to our democracy is not the demagogue or rightwingers, but rather, the apathy of the majority who fail to vote.
Critical elections will occur this fall. This is the moment to make sure that the seeds of American regeneration are well planted in every state, ever district, every single election. Vote as if our country depends on YOU — because it does!