Breakfast with an “Athenian treasure” inspires optimism in the USA

Breakfast with an “Athenian treasure” inspires optimism in the USA

An insightful breakfast conversation with Gary Bertsch, a true Athens treasure, on his porch early this past weekend lifted my spirits considerably.

Even though I wasn’t depressed—largely because I hadn’t watched the news that day—it was extremely refreshing to benefit from his experienced perspective, keen wisdom, and piercing logic.

He is a very smart man who has lived an extraordinary life that has put him on the world stage at the peak of his career. His life has also resonated in his professional life and he has brought the glamour of the average person to his street and his neighbourhood. He has always believed that better communities create a better world. He is a deep thinker who could walk with kings without losing touch with the general public.

His wife Joan found their relaxing home on Henderson Avenue, where she and Gary created a virtual Garden of Eden with shrubs and flowers. They added the most beautiful backyard home office imaginable, complete with shade in the summer and a cozy fireplace in the winter.

Spending time with this Idaho farm boy, whose football scholarship paid for his bachelor’s degree at Idaho State University, leaves you wanting more.

He taught internationally. He brought former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and other world leaders to Georgia. He worked with former Georgia Senator Sam Nunn and others to reduce nuclear proliferation.

He is something of an oasis in a desert of pessimism. I have heard him speak at local meetings, on his porch, and in his study. Things are not great, as we have unfortunately had two bad presidential elections, but there is reason to be confident that we will get through this. It starts with our Constitution, which is a defense against the machinations that some believe are possible.

On the table next to him was a new book by Yuval Levin called The American Covenant: How the Constitution United Our Nation and Could Do It Again, which argues, according to one columnist, that our founding document “is not failing us, but we are failing it.”

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If you believe that our country is in danger and going to the dogs, consider the classic view of the great-grandson of German immigrants from southern Ukraine:

  • China’s economic and military rise does not mean we should panic: “They have much bigger economic, demographic and political problems than we do,” he says.

  • Russia is even more problematic as a troubled third world country with nuclear weapons.

  • The Middle East, Iran, Hamas – what’s new? It’s been like this for centuries. The current situation is tragic, but it will not bring down the United States.

  • Climate change is a major challenge, but the world is becoming increasingly serious about tackling it.

  • Weapons of mass destruction are a serious problem. It is perhaps the greatest concern of all and could destroy life as we know it.

Gary Bertsch has identified these international problems and can present some good news about the United States’ great strengths.

  • We have a robust, solid economy: in 1990, per capita income in the United States was 17 percent higher than in Japan and 24 percent higher than in Western Europe. Today, it is 54 percent higher than in Japan and 32 percent higher than in Western Europe.

  • In 2008, the economies of the United States and the Eurozone were roughly the same size; today the United States is twice as large.

  • The dollar remains the currency for 90% of international transactions. We have more and better banks.

  • Our military is the most modern and strongest in the world.

  • The USA dominates the technologies of the present and future – digitalization, the Internet, artificial intelligence and biotechnology.

  • Energy: The United States is now the world’s largest producer of oil and gas and continues to develop green energy.

  • Well-educated workforce: We will meet the challenges from kindergarten to high school and our universities are the best in the world.

  • Demographics: The population of the United States continues to grow, while the populations of China, Japan and Europe are shrinking.

  • Allies: The US has more than others, including a reliable NATO.

  • Geographical/Geopolitical: The US is bordered by oceans and allies; China, Russia and Iran are included.

“The United States Constitution, rule of law and democracy are chaotic, but they are still among the best in the world. There is little reason for panic, pessimism or self-doubt. We should keep the faith and get our house in order. The United States of America can lead and succeed,” he continued.

Gary Bertsch believes we will elect more qualified people in the future. We have our Constitution and an enviable democracy, as chaotic as it may be. We have a unique set of conditions to succeed. We are lucky to live in the United States.

This article originally appeared in the Augusta Chronicle: Loran Smith: Feels more optimistic thanks to Gary Bertsch