The Zero Decade: Restarting The 21st Century and Rebooting America, In The Nick of Time

At the 2004 Democratic Convention, presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich told the country "we can restart the 21st century" by replacing the Bush administration and Republican Congress with a Democratic president and Congress. The country could progress again with sufficient intelligence, adult thinking, and informed creativity -- also known as progressive policy-making.

But, thanks to a small majority of America's voters (and maybe some Ohio GOP electoral chicanery), the country just stayed stuck on Republican stupid for another four years, until 2009, with Bush and Dick and the gang in charge of the executive branch and, for another two years, with Mitch McConnell and John "Baner" Boehner running the Congress.

What a weird coincidence that the calendar decade with more zeroes in its years than any other became such a "zero decade" in the conduct of the world's most powerful and impactful nation. And what an unfortunate missed opportunity this first decade of our new century -- and millennium! -- has been. This gateway of the most enormous possible new era (it will be 99 decades before the next equivalent milestone) could have been seen at least from the start of the 1990s, and used, as a symbolic kick in the pants to address an avalanche of huge and rapidly worsening human problems, from climate change and overpopulation to the continuing threat of nuclear holocaust and the destitution of billions.

That we have blown it -- that our country and shared culture has wasted its recent past -- is the most important thing we can learn from this decade, this incredibly wasted Zero Decade, as it slides into history. The only way to apply the lesson is to commit to accomplishing in the decade ahead everything we should have been working on in the years since the turn of 2000, and in the immediately preceding years, but with the twice the energy, creativity, and determination to make up for the wasted years just past.

It's been a pretty crummy century so far, thanks to years of Republican malgovernance and endless dIstRAQtion. Since 2000, America has seen the systematic degradation of its public sector, the continuing erosion of every aspect of its built infrastructure, the creation of an enormous and growing national debt, and the most destructive destabilization of the national and international financial system since 1929 -- while greasing the skids for an obscenely massive transfer of wealth to the richest and most advantaged Americans, the folks who already had most of the goodies.

We've argued over culture-war b.s. like "Under God" and "gun rights" and gay marriage while each year steadily increasing our national output of climate-changing greenhouse gases. While launching a totally unnecessary war in the Middle East that has sown only death, trauma, and chaos. While reigniting the cold war with Russia over the stupid and unnecessary arming of little Georgia and helping that small state hold two tiny regions that want to cast their fortunes with Russia.

So how do we accomplish in the years ahead everything we should have been getting done in the years since 2000 and in the preceding decade? How do we restart -- relaunch -- reboot the 21st century after so many retrograde years? How do we move robustly and positively forward when our new Democratic president and administration and Congress and supporters will need more than a year just to undo some of the deep damage produced in our country and globally by the dozen-years Republican death-grip on U.S. government policies and actions?

If we're lucky, the hourglass of possibilities did not run out with the 1990s and 2000s. Hopefully we're not now past our final decade of remediability in regard to global warming, in regard to the ongoing great fifth spasm of species extinction that continues unabated all around us, in regard to the avalanche of growing human numbers that globally still adds a billion new people, and the massive misery that accompanies them, every decade and a half.

If we're lucky, we can return the world by the year 2019 -- or maybe 2017, the end of Barack Obama's much-to-be-hoped-for second term as president -- more or less back to the more favorable starting conditions, in 2000, of the 21st century. (But not, unfortunately, any time soon to 2000's 365 to 369 parts per million of atmospheric carbon dioxide -- now at some 384 ppm.)

I hope that we -- by which I mean progressive Americans, and by that mostly Democrats -- will:

  • bind up the nation's largely self-inflicted wounds, rebuild our country, reduce our domestic violence, and help all Americans live better lives while every year reducing our collective damage to the planet;
  • stabilize and properly regulate the financial and banking systems of America and its partners, and end the new recession's damage to lives across the world;
  • reduce our national greenhouse gas emissions to 2000's levels, or even the Kyoto Treaty's mandated 1990 levels, by 2012, and then proceed to lead the world to the halving of current carbon emissions needed by 2020 to preserve the biosphere;
  • fully fund international family planning and reduce the growth rate of human population in the next decade -- an effort that was dealt a big blow by George W. Bush when he reinstituted Ronald Reagan's partisan "global gag rule" on the second day of his administration and 22nd day of the 21st century;
  • meet the Millennium Development Goals by the longtime target year of 2015;
  • team up with the other nations of the world to lay the groundwork for a system of global water conservation and watershed regeneration and protection that will blunt the growing threat of global drought -- an example of the kind of "sustainable development" effort spurned by Bush and his fellow Republicans who refused to participate in the U.N.-sponsored Sustainable Development Summit in South Africa in 2002, the follow-on to the 1992 Earth Summit that was spurned by the first President Bush;
  • speed up the securing of the Former Soviet Union's many loose nukes and get the job done early in the new decade, and not wait until 2018 to finish it on the Bush administration's and purportedly terror-focused Republican Party's slowpoke schedule;
  • and accomplish a lot of other stuff on America's and humanity's neglected-since-the-last-century To Do list.

America in November 2008 has just made a hugely positive political change that will make these achievements possible later in the century. Finally we can hope that America's 21st century will be more than the relentless damage control and half-assed fix-its it seemed destined to be before the Midterm Election of 2006.

But we've got to get cracking now.

America must with finality release itself from the death grip of the ahistoric, anti-science, anti-nature, Tribulation- and Rapture-obsessed United States Republican Party and push those thieves of our better future out of power in all three branches of our federal government, and in as many state governments as possible, for as many years into the future as possible. For now, we're un-Stuck from Stupid for the next four years in the White House and almost certainly in the Congress as well.

(But not if we get lazy and let 2010 become the next 1994, when too many of America's too-busy-to-vote middle-class and working-class electorate let the GOP take control of Congress for the following dozen years.)

Maybe in the next four years we will actually accomplish a good deal of the badly-needed catch-up work necessary to save our collective national and global rear end. We might finally initiate the radical fast action needed to get a handle on the enormous challenge of global warming and head off the destruction of our global environment as we've always known it, and save our Earth not just for the rest of the century but for the entire remainder of humanity's time on Earth.

(But not if the GOPsters get back in the saddle.)

Maybe we can still have the beginning of the hopeful, healthy, and happy new century we should have started eight years ago a decade late, by the start of 2010. With smarts and hard work producing a lot of positive Change (and Democrats in charge), we can relaunch and restart our country and our age, and Get Back to the Future.

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