What Could America Look Like in 2026?

Article In The Thread
Sept. 21, 2021

An excerpt of Renewal: From Crisis to Transformation in Our Lives, Work, and Politics by Anne-Marie Slaughter. Copyright 2021 by Anne-Marie Slaughter. Reprinted by permission by Princeton University Press.

It’s 2026. The United States is reflecting on and reckoning with 250 years of history since its founding. It is also celebrating the continuation of our great national experiment, evolving in ways the founders could never imagine.

Villages, towns, and cities across the country, as part of a five-year US@250 project launched in 2021, have been telling their history, their whole history. They have worked with the organization Report for America to enlist their young people as local journalists, sending them forth to interview their elders and to dig through crumbling town records of deeds, marriages, births, deaths, and artifacts. They tell stories long buried or never told, discovering the Native American sites the town’s ancestors settled on, the many sites of slavery and Jim Crow, the immigrant labor that built their houses and economies, the continual ebb and flow of othering and belonging, exclusion and inclusion, oppression and freedom in the shaping and reshaping of their neighborhoods.

Stories of people and events to be celebrated and condemned, of virtue and villainy, heroism and human frailty, individualism and interdependence, risk and resilience, all side by side.

Museums and cultural institutions across the country are holding special exhibits. The Smithsonian is opening the new Museum of the American Latino on the National Mall. Like the Museum of African American History and Culture, it tells the history of Hispanic Americans and their communities; like the National Museum of the American Indian, it celebrates the vibrant presence of Latinx people in contemporary American life. In 1976, a fleet of sixteen tall ships from around the world sailed into New York harbor. This year, replicas of slave ships are arriving at every port where they once hideously delivered people as cargo, to anchor there as floating museums and memorials.

New York is also hosting a fleet of nearly two hundred ships from every country that ever sent an immigrant to the United States, to sail past the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island before sailing for other ports where immigrants landed on our coasts. Those ports are recognizing and honoring the Native American tribes who once owned the land.

Cities and towns across the country have worked with their sister cities in countries around the world to develop joint ceremonies of celebration or commemoration, emphasizing our deep connections to other nations. They have also invited Native Americans descended from the tribes and nations that once inhabited the land where they sit to design appropriate forms of commemoration.

During the fifteen days between Juneteenth, on June 19, and the Fourth of July, the nation will honor many founders, old and new. The Fourth of July will also see the signing of the legislation to change our national motto from E Pluribus Unum to Plures et Unum. The National Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which has been holding hearings and sponsoring many different kinds of events since it was created in 2021, will issue its final report.

The New Frontiers Commission, likewise convened in 2021, will issue a report card on a set of bold national goals to be achieved by 2036: establishing the United States as the world leader in environmental technologies of many different kinds, from reducing carbon emissions to desalination and new reusable materials; pioneering a new generation of both factories and farms tied to local economies; designing new educational systems to ensure that American students rank in the top three countries in all international learning assessments; and creating a health and care system that will address the medical and social determinants of physical and mental health.

Businesses, civic organizations, universities, religious institutions, learned societies, professional associations, local and state governments, and many other groups and institutions are also celebrating the completion of their 2026 Pledges of Allegiance—to America’s highest ideals. Over the past five years, beginning in 2021, they have made commitments to achieve specific, measurable goals by 2026.

Worker councils and worker centers have sprung up in businesses and counties across the country, concentrating the power of labor to work with (and, if necessary, against) management to protect the interests of workers. They grew out of worker health councils to protect worker interests during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Family Security Act, providing every family with a budget for paid family leave to meet whatever care needs may arise, and the Universal Childcare Act have jump-started the core care economy. Millions of jobs have been created and upgraded in the “care plus” or performance economy: counselors, coaches, advisers, mentors, tutors, trainers, navigators, community health and care workers, and many others.

One form of reparations for centuries of slavery, oppression, and discrimination against Black Americans in particular and other communities of color is the new availability of large pools of capital to local entrepreneurs across the country. These funds will be disbursed to everyone, but with a specific focus on people of color and women, particularly women of color, who want to expand or retrofit existing businesses or create new ones.

Many other things have stayed the same, or been mixed and remixed in ways that cast them in a new light. A five-year conversation about national songs and symbols, monuments and rituals, has taken many taboos off the table but has also reaffirmed deep commitments to the anthem, the flag, and other emblems of unity for a plurality nation. Painters, poets, composers, musicians, photographers, videographers, filmmakers, quilt-makers, sculptors, virtual reality coders, and artists of many other descriptions have come together in 2026 competitions, expositions, installations, festivals, and virtual events. That is one telling of 2026.

What is yours?

What is a dream we have not dared to yet dream, but you want to see be made real?

What will be our new narrative for our country?

Who will be included in the “we, the people”?

If you could find a new strand of possibility with our fellow

citizens, what would those strands be?

How would you weave them together?

How would you begin, starting this very moment?

I know how I would end. It’s 2026. Throughout the year, the nation’s first woman president presides over solemn ceremonies of reckoning, joyful celebrations of renewal, and competitions to imagine what the next fifty or 250 years will bring. In her speeches, she always makes sure to thank her sisters across the land. She thanks them for marching, lobbying, legislating, pushing, problem solving, and acting in every way they could think of. She thanks them for keeping the faith, for believing that change could and would come.

She reflects and represents a new America, a founded and re-founded America with a vision of universal and equal liberty, justice, democracy, prosperity, and security for the next 250 years. She can foresee that the presidential elections of 2028, 2032, 2036, and every four years thereafter will bring a steady progression of “firsts,” until all Americans can imagine that they can grow up to be president, or anything else they want to be. Until America is not the country that must be, but the country that is.

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