As a nation, in the legacy media and on the Internet (and yes, in person as well), we have discussed our nation's crumbling, out-of-date infrastructure and the need to make a sustained, national commitment to repairing it and modernizing it for the 21st century. Often, that discussion dissolves into partisan perspectives on the role that infrastructure plays in our day-to-day lives. For progressives, the decay of our infrastructure represents an abandonment of a key national priority, as well as an opportunity to create new, well-paying jobs that in turn would also create new sources of tax revenue, and a chance to demonstrate our ability as a nation to re-commit to meeting challenges.
For Republicans, on the other hand, the very word makes their eyes glaze over. Real jobs, and real construction, are things that are always best done by the private sector, even in the face of facts to the contrary. The space program? The interstate highway system? The Internet? All of this, in some cramped way, reflects the triumph of capitalism, even though none of them could have happened without the government. And anyone familiar with the history of our nation's railroads knows that they too would not exist without the help of the government. Which probably goes a long distance toward explaining why modern conservatives are so disdainful of railroads.
But being disdainful is one thing, and being accomplices to murder is something else.
I am, of course, referring to the recent Amtrak tragedy outside of Philadelphia. The investigation into the precise cause of this tragedy is ongoing, and we may not know for a while what that cause was. It appears, at this point, that, at the very least, excessive speed was one contributing cause. But speed was neither the only cause, nor the proximate one. Republican fiscal negligence was.
As I noted previously, railroads are a fiscal and philosophical bete noir for conservatives and their Republican operatives in Congress. There is something about the idea of people riding together, shoulder-to-shoulder, toward a common destination that just drives them up the wall. Personally, as someone who has always loved railroads ever since childhood, I think of that image as a nice metaphor for where we should be as a nation--moving in the same direction together.
But not for your average GOPer. They've been cutting Amtrak funding for years and, lately, that cutting has begun to move almost as quickly as the train in last week's tragedy. You can see this illustrated here, but this is the story that should break your heart. We had the technology to stop even a speeding train. And congressional Republicans didn't think the passengers' lives were worth the cost.
There is no way to mince words about this, and I'm not going to. If I were a prosecutor, I would charge the Republicans responsible for these budget cuts with second-degree murder, based upon their reckless indifference to the lives and safety of Amtrak passengers. But, whether they are charged or not, they are absolutely guilty. The blood and pain of the dead and injured are on their hands.
How many more lives have to be lost before we realize that calling ourselves the greatest nation on earth is much more than a rhetorical act? Other nations put a premium on public resources and don't hesitate to pay for them. We, the people of this nation and its bought-and-paid-for government, feel differently; we worship the goal of making the rich richer, and pretend not to notice that this worship makes all of us poorer--or dead.
Do we have the ability to save ourselves? That is what I believe God expects of us. Before we can expect any divine intervention, we need to show that we can take care of each other, and be willing to pay a personal price for doing so. Greed is not good; greed is deadly. As last week's Amtrak tragedy shows, greed is slowing destroying us all. And, as illustrated here, greed may be unstoppable, even in the wake of tragedy. If we don't act to change our perspective and behavior soon, it will not just be the Republicans who have blood on their hands.
It will be all of us.