Recently, Politico and The New York Times reported on a secretive effort to track “unidentified aerial phenomena” described by military personnel. Purely out of curiosity about life on other planets, I’m glad the Pentagon spent $22 million chasing after UFOs.
But if it didn’t find any, that’s a relief. The United States can’t handle extraterrestrials anytime soon.
Forget “War of the Worlds.” We’re not capable of dealing with Mork, Alf, or even Oh — the cute purple alien from Disney’s “Home” — if recent events in Washington are any guide.
Increasingly, our government neglects threats that are far more urgent than the distant possibility of alien spacecraft. We have a White House that can’t bear even to see the words “climate change,” a threat that scientists have been fretting about for decades and that military planners take quite seriously.
So if the now defunded UFO program ever made contact with strange, potentially hostile creatures from across the stars, our political system wouldn’t know what to do about the revelation anyway.
In novels and movies, alien visitations are never really about the aliens. The interesting part is what they show us about ourselves. In “Independence Day,” from the carefree 1990s, earthlings blithely celebrated the appearance of flying saucers by partying on the roofs of skyscrapers — at least until death beams incinerated everything in sight. In “Arrival,” released in 2016, world leaders cooperate at first — until miscommunications and mistranslations bring humans to the brink of war with each other and with the visitors. It’s up to the aliens to help straighten things out among the humans, who can’t work the problem out themselves.
In real life, we make an even softer target. Preparing for the future just isn’t something that we do. It’s almost as if there’s a taboo against it.
As journalist Michael Lewis reported in Vanity Fair earlier this year, Donald Trump’s transition team barely even tried to learn how the Department of Energy oversees the nation’s nuclear-weapons arsenal; they cared much more about finding any scientists who might have been studying climate change. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, vital in countering ailments from AIDS to Zika, is busily scrubbing words such as “transgender” and “fetus” from its budget documents.
All the while, the United States faces a slowdown in productivity and spiraling inequality that gnaws at the fabric of society. In response, Republicans in Congress are jamming through a bill that slashes taxes for 1-percenters but blows up the deficit, squeezes large university endowments, and raises middle-class taxes over time.
In 2017, ignoring the advice of scientists, economists, and other well-informed worrywarts is just one more way of sticking it to the libs. Watching the year’s events unfold, any prospective alien overlords must be thinking: They’re joking, right?Dante Ramos can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Facebook: facebook.com/danteramos or on Twitter: @danteramos.