We want to join the many voices rightly celebrating one of the greatest moments in our history. How hard it must have been to even imagine that journey 50 years ago that saw America reach out and touch something so distant, mysterious and powerful.
The iconic images of the moon landing that returned to us became instant symbols of our ability as a people and a culture to make real what we could only imagine.
Not even the confines of the planet itself were enough to contain American, and human, ingenuity and will.
We want to celebrate that today, but we have some pause.
We find ourselves asking if the America we live in today is capable of such wonder and awe.
We don’t mean technologically. Every day seems to bring us some advancement that would have seemed impossible a decade ago. We are so washed in technology that we take its abilities for granted. We assume the impossible now.
No, what more worries us today are the political and cultural questions that reflecting on the moon landing draw up.
Are we a nation that can gather around a singular goal and make it ours? Are we a country that can be unironic and patriotic enough to take seriously President John F. Kennedy’s call that we sacrifice our individual selves for the whole of the republic?
We aren’t convinced the answer to those questions is yes.
This isn’t to cast a halcyon glow on the past. Apart from the Civil War, it’s hard to name another era so politically torn as the late 1960s. And the country was torn for good reason. We needed to expand civil rights, to make good on the promise of equality, and that pain was part of the price for that work. The nation was also embroiled in war, and armed conflict is something that always leads to intense public debate.
What might have been different, though, was the sense of what America, as an idea, represented.
Today, the most prominent voices on the left too often cast America more in the light of its sins than its promise and achievements, as a place of division where power and privilege are simply an accident of birth or the spoils of faction and tribe. And, from the loudest voices on the right, the nation seems ever more unwelcoming and isolationist and fearful, not as the leader of nations devoted to the expansion of human freedom and democracy.
We believe that America is much better than those negative voices would pretend — voices amplified ironically enough through technology.
We believe Americans want to see the nation the way we were able to see it when our flag was planted in the dust and rock of the moon.
This is a country capable of making human life better and that has made human life better through all of our achievements — scientific, political and social.
Let’s consider that for a moment in wonder and awe. Then, let’s go together to achieve the next great thing.