Editor’s Note: What we need is backbone

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Editor’s Note: What we need is backbone

7.3.12 Last week, I joked in the introduction to our feature that I wasn’t 100 percent sure what power was. Having been without it for three nights in a row through a sweltering run of summer weather—what a farmer might call killing heat—I’m comfortable with a more literal interpretation. Power means having dominion over electricity, so you can blow frost rings in the air in your living room as you watch recorded segments of the Tour de France. The good news is that we had water, supplied by the city, but I still found my own circuits frying, making me in turns vague and irascible, the familiar logical connections that hold my sense together failing like horse glue until I looked out onto a barely recognizable world, melted, feeling neither creative nor dependable.

After the torrid media cycle spurred by UVA President Teresa Sullivan’s removal and reinstatement, the town slipped back to its midsummer stasis, so much so that the reappointment of Helen Dragas to the Board of Visitors inspired no throaty encore of recrimination. On the national stage the Supreme Court ruled on immigration and health care, in effect handing over those vital issues to the politicos to carry home. The politicos, after their position statements had been fired off into the World Wide Web by their non-government staff secretaries, turned their attention to our nation’s birthday celebration, when each will claim to wear the red, white, and blue with the most aplomb. The rest of us should head for the beaches, mountains, and rivers, but, if that’s not possible on the mid-week holiday, we may just as well lean on our shovels a spell and wax philosophical.

I mainly wear my own patriotism as social critique, feeling somehow that the highest praise of the national project is to believe in the possibility of its perfection. I think our current economic crisis can be traced to the decay of our infrastructure—physical, technological, intellectual, ethical. You could call it backbone and the questions would be the same. Why bury a power line if there is no profit in it? Why dig a ditch if you don’t have to? Why compete if you can eliminate the competition? Why agree when you can disagree? And then, finally, what happens when you defer maintenance on the American Dream? Wait and see.—Giles Morris

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