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The Dartmouth
April 20, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Capone: The Great American Revitalization Project

Restoring U.S. national identity is a presidential imperative.

The second GOP debate this past Wednesday saw Republican presidential hopefuls square off once more, with only four months until the Iowa primary. One topic, more than any other, seemed to take center stage: American identity. Regardless of the question asked, most answers — if they even did answer the question that was asked — invariably turned to talking points of what it means to be an American, often contrasted against the values of China. 

In light of this, I am reminded of one particular point that saw former Vice President Mike Pence face off against political newcomer Vivek Ramaswamy in the previous debate last month. While Ramaswamy, certainly in an attempt to appeal to the demographic of young voters, stated that America faced an “identity crisis,” Pence resoundingly disagreed, stating that “We are not looking for a new identity.” In a way, both are right.

Young voters are embracing the civic responsibility to engage with the political climate of their country. Their generation is markedly anti-establishment and unafraid to express their opinions, so it is understandable that frustration about America’s history, uncertainty about the present and worry for the future coalesces into a convoluted posture about what this “great nation” represents. Simultaneously, Pence’s comments, interpreted one way, can be equally animating. I agree with him that the United States isn’t looking to invent an entirely new identity, but that neglects the possibility that perhaps amidst such political contention of late, we as a country and people have lost the identity that once seemed universally discernible. 

This disagreement illustrates the epitome of this purported identity crisis: that there is an extreme — and still growing — disparity between voting generations about the state, role and goals of America. Most current members of Congress — whose median age is 59, or 65 in the Senate and 57.5 in the House — deny, or at best, deign to acknowledge, the viewpoint that their country is at a critical crossroads in most political issues. Many young voters resoundingly disagree. This dynamic will only further cement the polarity that has gripped the American political landscape over the last decade.

Given the growing contention about “Americanism,” I imagine that the role of the President over the next few terms will assume a more domestic-facing role. Particularly, I foresee the necessity of what I am calling the Great American Revitalization Project, a government initiative that attempts to invigorate and restore the allure of the American nation and dream for all generations. If the United States truly seeks to live up to its idealized state, it starts by fixing a fractured nation: first physically, and then politically. Doing so will aid in the process of reducing political polarity and restoring a sense of harmony among all citizens of the country.

During Wednesday’s second debate, Ramaswamy cited American exceptionalism and concluded his opening remarks by saying, “That’s what it means to be an American.” In the August Republican presidential primary debate, he said that the greatest threat to the U.S. was the “deep loss of national self-confidence.” Amidst recent headlines — like a lack of transparency or general miscommunication about the extent and purpose of aid in Ukraine, continued probes and special counsels into key figures of both parties and increasing pressure from BRICS countries vying for economic multipolarity — this national self-confidence is evidently threatened. 

Thus emerges the necessity for an American revitalization project.

This revitalization could take many forms. The most perceptible is an infrastructure overhaul. Most European cities, and increasingly those in the Middle East, retain astounding ancient landmarks and simultaneously boast architectural marvels of the modern age. Solidifying American national identity must chiefly be a display of constructive, creative and imaginative capabilities, a tribute to the incontestable human capital of the world power. Allocating funding to erect landmark structures in at least the 50 most populous cities, if not more, is imperative. Famous landmarks like the Empire State Building pale in comparison to recent construction efforts globally. These structures need not only be engineering and architectural feats, but practical and symbolic ones as well. 

Additionally, we must establish cultural institutions that celebrate the positive histories and current diversities of America. We must construct landmark sites of scientific and technological innovation to honor discoveries that revolutionized global capabilities, with an emphasis on underrepresented figures like mathematician and aerospace engineer Mary Jackson, mathematician Katherine Johnson, and astronaut Sally Ride. We must construct community centers that concentrate services and mutual experiences. We’ve begun to see evidence of this first shift with the recent opening of the Las Vegas Dome, which disrupts the landscape of traditional event venues and proves to be a unique and innovative new feature of the city. Yet this proves far from enough to the coordinated effort necessary to revitalize America. 

We should also reinvigorate historic institutions, such as Dartmouth and other Ivy League universities, as well as further invest in historically black colleges and universitiesHBCUs and community colleges to celebrate educational centers as creators of future talent and crucibles of knowledge discovery. Rehauling American infrastructure also requires the construction of a true public transportation system. We should emphasize building a green, energy efficient, high-speed intercontinental rail system and reworking city transit networks to provide carbon neutral and effective subway and bus systems, as well as increasing other options for foot and bike traffic.

The second part of America’s revitalization requires a re-securitization of the citizenship process. This “security” doesn’t necessarily mean restricting naturalization, but rather reinforcing the patchwork process, especially regarding applications for asylum. The reinvigoration of what citizenry means also translates to enhanced educational curricula using a holistic teaching approach to American history, as well as civic responsibility classes that inculcate practical knowledge and skills to ready students for adulthood.

The third involves further mobilization of the next generation of voters. This concerns three specific facets: liberty, equity and privacy. Liberty refers to the freedom of expression, something generationally catalyzed through social media; it also refers to the right to healthcare and educational access. This flows into equity, which codifies a more systemically realistic structure of resource provision. In all cases, technology is likely to play the largest role. Stable nationwide broadband access, perhaps supported by a satellite internet network, is the most pragmatic solution. Finally, institutionalizing practices that safeguard consumer and individual privacy becomes imperative, especially since a right to privacy still isn’t codified in the Constitution.

Any presidential candidate — not just those in the Republican party — must realistically address the future of the nation and lay aside false promises for tax cuts, job growth and heightened economic prosperity at the expense of real progress. To secure the future of America, we must first decide what America should be.

Opinion articles represent the views of their author(s), which are not necessarily those of The Dartmouth.