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VICTOR JOECKS: Artemis 1 symbolizes a nation in decline

If historians one day need a symbol for America in 2022, the Artemis 1 moon rocket will do nicely.

Last week, NASA planned to send the Orion capsule around the moon and back to Earth. This is part of its Artemis mission, which will eventually send astronauts back to the moon. NASA wants to establish a long-term presence on the moon as a stepping-stone to Mars.

That sounds incredible. Then NASA scrubbed its first launch after an engine wasn’t cooling properly. A hydrogen leak shut down a second attempt on Saturday. A repair will take weeks and may require taking the rocket off the launch pad.

In one sense, this is understandable. Launching Artemis 1 is literally rocket science. There are thousands of things that can go wrong. NASA should err on the side of caution.

But in another way, it’s deeply embarrassing. The U.S. successfully landed men on the moon in 1969. Two generations later, the country’s best and brightest need extra time before even trying to get an unmanned rocket off the ground.

Not a great look.

Unfortunately, this is far from the only area of American life that is regressing.

Start with crime. This topic hits especially hard right now, after the tragic apparent murder of Review-Journal investigative reporter Jeff German. He was a genuinely nice man and a dedicated and accomplished journalist.

Nationwide, there was an unprecedented 30 percent jump in homicides between 2019 and 2020. The number of murders went even higher in 2021, approaching levels not seen in 25 years.

Viral videos show thieves brazenly emptying store shelves while employees, customers and even security guards stand by helplessly. Major companies are shutting down stores in high-crime areas. These aren’t signs of a civilization on the upswing.

Despite decades of funding increases, public education remains a disaster area. The pandemic and subsequent school closures made it worse. Scores declined substantially on the National Assessment of Education Progress. For instance, African American students saw nearly 30 years of gains in math wiped away.

California and Nevada are struggling to generate enough electricity. California officials warned residents they could endure rolling blackouts this week. Nevada officials are begging residents to use less power between 5 and 8 p.m. The most technologically advanced generation ever can’t even keep the lights on.

The surest sign that a civilization is wasting away is a birthrate below the replacement level of 2.1 births per woman. The United States hasn’t hit that level since 2007.

Better policy can help. Put criminals in jail. Use school choice to improve education. Build natural gas and nuclear power plants.

But the country’s decay runs much deeper, and most of us know it. Many in our society have largely abandoned three of its most fundamental buildings blocks. They include a belief in or at least respect for shared Judeo-Christian values, trust in the country’s founding ideals, and the nuclear family.

Without those bedrock principles anchoring society, a failed rocket launch is the least of our worries.

Victor Joecks’ column appears in the Opinion section each Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Contact him at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.