David Rothkopf

And just like that WTF regains its old meaning…

First came the State of the Union. Then came the Republican response. Then came the Tea Party response to the response. And then we heard from an even higher power. The message was clear. President Obama wants us to win the future. But we couldn’t even win the snowstorm. Even as cute news stories were ...

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

First came the State of the Union. Then came the Republican response. Then came the Tea Party response to the response. And then we heard from an even higher power.

The message was clear. President Obama wants us to win the future. But we couldn’t even win the snowstorm. Even as cute news stories were explaining that WTF now was the acronym for the president’s aspirational goal, it had already reclaimed its more established meaning.

In the nation’s capital, 45 minute commutes took 12 hours. Power flickered off for hundreds of thousands. From Washington to Boston hundreds of flights were cancelled, schools were closed, businesses ground to a halt.

Closing the schools hurt doubly because a report that was buried in most newspapers the day after Obama’s speech pointed out that U.S. students were falling further and further behind on science achievement. Astonishingly, horrifyingly, only one out of five U.S. high school seniors were proficient at science, only 1 to 2 percent qualified as advanced on a national test administered to over 300,000 students.

While the test results don’t bode well for the future of the United States or for the president’s grand vision of the United States as the innovation nation, they do explain why so many of this country’s meteorologists failed to predict yesterday’s snowstorm. And they also explain why so few of Washington’s residents have enough grasp of basic physics to realize that pounding on the accelerator (or the horn) will not make their two wheel drive cars cut through the snow and ice any better.

Meanwhile, the Telegraph simultaneously carried a story of China’s plans to build a city in the Pearl River Delta that will incorporate 9 existing major cities and will ultimately be home to 42 million people. 26 times greater than the size of metropolitan London, the region will be linked together over the next six years by 150 massive infrastructure projects worth over $300 billion. And I read about it on my iPad while sitting shivering in my darkened living room huddling next to the fire that was providing the only heat for my house on the edge of the capital of what once was the most powerful nation on earth.

Win the future? WTF.

First came the State of the Union. Then came the Republican response. Then came the Tea Party response to the response. And then we heard from an even higher power.

The message was clear. President Obama wants us to win the future. But we couldn’t even win the snowstorm. Even as cute news stories were explaining that WTF now was the acronym for the president’s aspirational goal, it had already reclaimed its more established meaning.

In the nation’s capital, 45 minute commutes took 12 hours. Power flickered off for hundreds of thousands. From Washington to Boston hundreds of flights were cancelled, schools were closed, businesses ground to a halt.

Closing the schools hurt doubly because a report that was buried in most newspapers the day after Obama’s speech pointed out that U.S. students were falling further and further behind on science achievement. Astonishingly, horrifyingly, only one out of five U.S. high school seniors were proficient at science, only 1 to 2 percent qualified as advanced on a national test administered to over 300,000 students.

While the test results don’t bode well for the future of the United States or for the president’s grand vision of the United States as the innovation nation, they do explain why so many of this country’s meteorologists failed to predict yesterday’s snowstorm. And they also explain why so few of Washington’s residents have enough grasp of basic physics to realize that pounding on the accelerator (or the horn) will not make their two wheel drive cars cut through the snow and ice any better.

Meanwhile, the Telegraph simultaneously carried a story of China’s plans to build a city in the Pearl River Delta that will incorporate 9 existing major cities and will ultimately be home to 42 million people. 26 times greater than the size of metropolitan London, the region will be linked together over the next six years by 150 massive infrastructure projects worth over $300 billion. And I read about it on my iPad while sitting shivering in my darkened living room huddling next to the fire that was providing the only heat for my house on the edge of the capital of what once was the most powerful nation on earth.

Win the future? WTF.

David Rothkopf is visiting professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs and visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His latest book is The Great Questions of Tomorrow. He has been a longtime contributor to Foreign Policy and was CEO and editor of the FP Group from 2012 to May 2017. Twitter: @djrothkopf

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