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Editorial: A little drone on Mars shows we can be great

As we on the North Fork and across America ponder the atrocious mess our national politicians have made of this country, there’s one thing we don’t seem to be talking about: a tiny American helicopter flew above the surface of Mars last week.

Yes, that’s right. If you somehow missed it, a drone controlled by NASA scientists from 180 million miles away flew above the surface of Mars, the very first time — as far as anyone knows, anyway — anything like this has happened. 

So often in our recent history, it seems, the concept of what has always been called American exceptionalism -— our ability to identify a problem, threat or goal and fix it or achieve it for the good of our country — has been kicked to the curb.

Think of JFK announcing early in his presidency that America would commit itself to landing an astronaut on the moon. In July 1969, Neil Armstrong did just that. We all know what he said as he stepped down: “… one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

When millions of soldiers came home from World War II and needed educations, the government created the GI Bill. This was socialism, yes, for those of you frightened by the word. This bill was a game-changing achievement that helped create a thriving middle class. It gave those former soldiers and sailors the chance to learn, achieve better lives and acquire the means to send their children off to colleges and universities.

In light of everything going on in this country now and in recent years, we are wondering if our thoroughly broken and tribalized political system — and the rampant, almost comical hypocrisy of those in power — has put this exceptionalism on ice. 

We want it back. We want another giant leap for mankind.

In the last 13 months, a virus killed over 550,000 Americans — more than the combat deaths in World War I, World War II and Vietnam combined. Since late January, the ability to produce and ship vaccines and inoculate millions of Americans has been a great success. 

When we needed that to work, it worked. When we needed the government to attack the virus with all its might and slow its spread, it failed. Hence, the death toll.

We continue to fight the battles of the November election. People still think one side was cheated in a massive conspiracy involving, among others, a dead Venezuelan dictator.

Politicians don’t see failure among members of their party, but only among those on the other side. Incredibly, we can’t even find a consensus on the issue of climate change. We all lose because of this. 

And now, in our state, there is an almost desperate need for money. Big money, in a state with some of the highest public salaries in the country. State officials hope legalizing recreational use of marijuana will pay some of the tab. If it doesn’t do the job, we wonder what the government could possibly come up with next.

New York is among the highest taxed states in the country. In the aftermath of the business-destroying pandemic, the state and county need cash. According to census reports the state is near the top on the list of places people leave after retirement because they can’t afford to stay. 

The wrong financial decisions now, and this situation will only grow worse. Then what?

We want to revel in the incredible scientific accomplishment on Mars. It feels like a throwback to the great achievements of the past that everyone could get behind. 

That little drone flying over the surface of Mars is exceptional, in a time when that quality seems to be retreating. This achievement makes our bitter infighting on Earth seem incredibly small.