At 11:15am on July 7, 1919, a US Army convoy consisting of 81 military vehicles departed Washington, DC for a perilous journey to San Francisco.
The army convoy wasn’t responding to an emergency or preparing for battle. In fact, since World War I had just ended, the United States was shifting focus back to its own domestic challenges. And one of those challenges was the pitiful state of America’s road network.
There were hardly any roads in the US back in the early 1900s, and most of the ones that existed weren’t paved. That was actually the entire purpose of the Army’s 3,251 mile cross-country convoy: to demonstrate just how BAD the roads really were.
Among the convoy’s participants was a 28-year old Army officer named Dwight Eisenhower, and he wrote extensively about the journey.
He observed that much of America was almost impassable, even for military vehicles. Roads in the Great Plains turned into bottomless mud pits when it rained, and Eisenhower wrote that during one particularly rainy day, 25 trucks slid off the road.
By the time they got to Utah, the dusty desert roads clogged up their engines, causing them to abandon a dozen vehicles along the way. And the steep grades of the western forests and mountains caused their travel to slow to a pedestrian pace.
Eisenhower found humor in the convoy’s ever-present troubles, writing later that they were like “a traveling troupe of clowns.” But despite his positive outlook, the need to improve America’s infrastructure was burned into his memory.
Decades later when Eisenhower became the military governor of occupied Germany after World War II, he witnessed first hand how much better and more efficient the German autobahn road network was. And he knew the United States needed to modernize its highway system.
Eisenhower became US President a few years later in 1953. And the following year he appointed Lucius Clay to head the national highway project.
Clay was a civil engineer and former Army general who had spent his career overseeing complex infrastructure projects, leading large organizations, managing enormous budgets, and solving major logistics challenges.
He was even responsible for organizing the miraculous Berlin Airlift in 1948-1949, in which over 270,000 flights brought 2.3 million tons of supplies into West Berlin during the Soviet blockade; it was considered logistically impossible… but Clay pulled it off.
In short, Lucius Clay was eminently qualified for the job of establishing an interstate highway system in the United States.
When Eisenhower presented Clay’s report to Congress, virtually everyone agreed that America’s lack of infrastructure was a problem. And both political parties understood that building a highway system was critical for national defense and economic growth.
Naturally they disagreed on several issues; for example, Eisenhower wanted to fund the project with tolls. Others in Congress wanted to issue debt, while others wanted to fund it with taxes.
But in the end, both Congress and the White House quickly reached a compromise to pass the Federal Highway Act. And on August 13, 1956– less than two years from when Lucius Clay took charge– the groundbreaking of the first interstate highway took place near St. Louis, Missouri (I-70).
The US interstate highway system is a monument to the sensible, efficient way that the federal government was once able to solve large, complex challenges.
There used to be grown-ups in charge who could clearly recognize a problem, rationally discuss practical solutions, prudently consider the consequences, and quickly reach a compromise to make it happen.
They also used to put competent people in charge of things… real leaders with actual qualifications and experience.
In contrast, the guy who is in charge of the federal highway system today is Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.
Pete was nominated for the job despite having zero experience leading complex organizations, no idea how to manage a huge budget, and no knowledge about transportation or infrastructure.
What could possibly go wrong?!?
Under Pete’s leadership, supply chains broke down. Seaports became a total disaster. Highways have continued to crumble. Airports achieved historic chaos, including FAA outages and record flight cancellations.
And America’s rail system became a literal hot mess.
Curiously, after a February train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio spewed toxic chemicals and fumes, Buttigieg couldn’t even manage to comment on the crisis for weeks. He did, however, find time to insist that
Ford and General Motors should use female crash test dummies.
Anyone else with such a pitiful track record would have been fired long ago.
But not Pete. Instead, he was awarded a massive $1.2 TRILLION budget from the 2021 infrastructure bill. And much of this money will be spent according to his personal discretion.
Essentially this means that Pete Buttigieg now manages the world’s largest infrastructure fund.
Infrastructure is a popular asset class among many private investors, and plenty of asset management firms set up infrastructure funds to develop toll roads, railways, etc.
Brookfield Asset Management, for example, has more than $100 billion worth of infrastructure funds in its stable.
But Pete now has more than 10x that amount under his management. In fact his $1.2 trillion “fund” is larger than all of the world’s private infrastructure funds COMBINED.
Yet again, Pete has no experience managing large sums of money. He has no real investment experience.
In fact, to give you a sense of Pete’s dimwitted investment ethos, he said at one point that his main concern was to “make sure we take all this money, this $1.2 trillion… and actually deliver $1.2 trillion worth of value”.
A professional asset manager would strive to deliver a 5x or 10x return on investment. But not Pete. Pete’s tiny reptile brain can’t figure out how to generate a 1x return.
Let’s be honest, though… what more could we possibly expect from an administration that has a diversity and inclusion obsession and hires people based exclusively on pointless ‘identity’ characteristics?
In Pete’s case, one of the biggest reasons he has the job is because he’s gay. And this is really sad; someone’s sexual orientation shouldn’t matter one bit. The only thing that should matter is competence, of which Pete has none.
Even if one were to agree that ‘identity’ characteristics are important… can they at least still pick qualified people??!?!
But the guy who shakes hands with thin air doesn’t pick qualified people. All he thinks about (assuming he’s still capable of thought) is what’s swinging or not swinging between your legs. How much melanin content you have in your skin. Who you sleep with.
These are the only characteristics that matter.
Brains? Irrelevant. Integrity? Laughable. Experience? Preposterous!
Pete is obviously far from being the first diversity hire in US history. But he’s emblematic of a much larger trend that puts diversity and inclusion ahead of delivering results to the American public… at a time when America is in critical need of delivering results.
Similarly, this debt ceiling fiasco further demonstrates the government’s inability to deliver results.
In Eisenhower’s era, they worked together and got things done. It wasn’t perfect and there was plenty of disagreement. But they knew how to compromise for the good of the nation.
Today, POTUS literally starts the conversation by flat-out rejecting any compromise… which is the exact opposite of what the country needs. Apparently his four decades of experience only taught him how to be childish, petty, and destructive.
Despite all of America’s problems, I’ve been very clear that there IS still a way out of this mess. However one of the key ingredients is capable leadership… and that’s far from a sure thing.
We can certainly hope that sensible, practical people take charge in the near future. But hope is not a viable course of action. And it’s for that reason that it makes all the sense in the world to have a Plan B.