Rebuilding Our Future

Roger McDonald
4 min readSep 11, 2021

December 8, 2020

The nation is at a crossroads for our democracy. The people of our country are divided on a multitude of issues, and the level of trust and faith in our fellows, not to mention in our institutions and government, is at an all-time low.

A review of human history clearly shows that a house divided against itself cannot stand. The Constitution — our contract with our fellows — is at risk. Our society’s plumbing — the legislative process, the judicial process, the executive process — is failing; the technology of information and communication, transformation of the media and the press seemingly overwhelm. We are barely able function in passing laws, adjudicating laws, debating our future. Our faith in the central values and beliefs of our social contract as well as those of nearly every religion is under siege — whether it be the ten commandments of the Judeo-Christian-Muslim family, or of Buddhism, Confucianism, and other faiths.

Too often, we assume that these values and beliefs are free. They are not; they are earned, they are taught, they are tested, and they are practiced. They are commitments to act.

And because we are the first civilization to strive to be a people of many races, many ethnicities, many religions — to strive to be all equal partners in this human family — these values and beliefs are tested on a scale unseen in human history. That is why people all over the world refer to our journey as the “American experiment.”

The greatest challenge we face now is bringing the people of America to work together effectively to protect and build on our experiment. That begins with talking with one another, learning with and from each other, building on a central focus in which to get people, young and old, engaged.

A social contract, like the one codified in the U.S. Constitution, is a transaction, yes, but just having this written down does not deliver the goods. Nor will programs of free college education for all, or free health care for all, or faith in American ingenuity and science by themselves ensure a sustainable society. Equally important, success depends on the agreement and commitment of each individual to serve, to learn, to be disciplined, to never take for granted our freedoms or the rule of law, and to share the commitment to make these available to every person.

In short, America today is in dire need of an engaged populace that genuinely wants to participate in rebuilding and maintaining a free and democratic society, and that has the tools to do so. And it will require that each American practice personal accountability for delivering on that.

In 1932 FDR brought us together with the New Deal during the early years of the great depression. In 1961, JFK began his Presidency with the words “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” Today America is in an even more vulnerable position than we were in 1932 or in 1961. It will take an equally bold initiative, made more difficult because we are a country divided.

We have much to do. All will not be repaired quickly. But if we are to repair, we must begin, in the words of Stanley McChrystal, by “seeking the common ground.”

What does “the common ground” mean? It means finding a place, ideas, actions to which few would object, many would support, and that go across the many fences of race, gender, religion, and political ideology. Coalescing around a battle against a common enemy, or a threat to people’s lives and livelihoods has often been the way forward — sometimes that threat is real, sometimes it is manufactured or false.

Today the threats are real: For our next four years, COVID is first for 2021. And in parallel, infrastructure focused on ameliorating climate change is key to engaging our populace in the common ground. The combination of projects centering around “attacking” climate change and infrastructure rebuilding will provide the need for both new jobs and training for the work. What better place for a national service program to get its first start?

Building Back Better

The four priorities of the new Administration will need resources and commitment to succeed. We need a shock to the system, an insurgency that energizes people to get out of the traps of disenfranchisement, despondency, tribalism, etc., and which encourages positive involvement in the future.

What better way to focus than to bring together a program of National Service to work on infrastructure, on climate change and on economic recovery? Indeed, such a program exists today. In January 2016, three organizations dedicated to making a year of service a common expectation and opportunity for all young Americans came together to found Service Year Alliance. Since then, under the mentorship and guidance of Stanley McChrystal and many others, the Alliance and similar initiatives have made considerable progress.

Such a program, focused on Building Back Better initiatives, can also bring us together around a common purpose and help break the isolation bubbles that have polarized our populace.

· Supporting the imperative that every American has “skin in the game”

· Learning commitment to civic values

We can start by designing and delivering a well-funded service protocol, program, and path in which all Americans participate. For the young, a one-year program as laid out in the Service Year Alliance ( as a gap year, a sort of “boot camp,” before the college, vocational, specialized degree programs, or full-time military service.

Under the banner “Serve your way to a valuable post high school education,” “the program will provide a pathway to college, vocational school, or specialized training such as military service in exchange for service to rebuilding America.”

Without a doubt, it will not be easy, and it will be a journey over several years, for today we are in the midst of an unprecedented breakdown of societal trust in our own institutions and attacks on thousands of years of hard-learned lessons on how societies sustain and fall. But the future of American experiment depends on our not failing.



Roger McDonald

Born and raised by the ocean in New England, lived in Japan, China, the U.K., India; Problem solver and mediator, lifelong passion to help make democracy work.