From a term paper by an American college freshman in the year 2051:
``Among the most significant historical developments in the United States in the last 50 years, the abolition of the death penalty in 2022 stands out. It seems incredible ours was the last democratic nation in the world to do away with this barbaric punishment. The idea that the government has the right to kill people in order to teach people that killing people is wrong seems downright bizarre today.
``Yet, in 2001, that was the conventional wisdom, and state-organized killing was legal and widely practiced and accepted by Americans, just as racial segregation had been in 1951 and slavery in 1851.
``How did it come to pass that the death penalty finally was outlawed? Despite the protests of a growing minority of abolitionists, the number of people executed increased every year until 2015. Finally, by the early 2010s, the carnage was so vast that there was a wave of public revulsion.
``The tide began to turn. The long-term drop in violent crime associated with the aging of the population reduced fear of crime and support for capital punishment. Some Americans were embarrassed by a campaign organized by international human-rights organizations to get the European parliament to label the United States a `rogue nation' for `its stubborn refusal to abolish government-sanctioned murder.'
THE LAST STRAW
``The last straw came in 2020, when Texas executed a mentally handicapped man who later was found to have been innocent. In the wake of a national outcry, in 2022 the Supreme Court unanimously ruled capital punishment `cruel and unusual.'
``A second historical development of the first half of the present century was the health security act of 2010. The crash of the new economy and the recession of 2001-2005 more than doubled the number of Americans without health coverage.
``With over 100 million people lacking medical care, public anger finally broke the back of the insurance lobby. Health care became the right of every American, albeit decades after the citizens of all but the poorest countries in the world had begun to enjoy this benefit.
``Perhaps the most momentous development of the era was the rise of the Green Democrat Fusion Party. Historians say it was a reaction to the unprecedented economic inequality and environmental devastation that became impossible to ignore by the 2020s. Since the Green Democrats took control of Congress and won the presidency in 2036, a combination of jaw-boning, tax incentives and legislation have brought the median pay of corporate CEOs down to 10 times the average employee's salary (compared to 1,000 times in 2035).
``A 2050 study showed the United States, which in 2040 had the most unequal income distribution among rich nations, now has the most equal one. And, in 2041, the United States finally ratified the much-revised Kyoto treaty first proposed late last century.
``The reduction in emission of greenhouse gases was drastic and immediate. Global warming was halted, but economists estimate the cost of not having acted sooner at $10 trillion.
BATTLE OVER GUNS
``Certainly the hardest fought battle has been over guns. Kids taking guns to school to kill their fellow students became a common practice as early as 2001. But the National Rifle Association argued that the solution was to train all children in the use of weapons and allow them to carry them to school to defend themselves.
``This argument didn't win the day, but the gun lobby was able to use its clout to stall effective gun-control legislation until a comprehensive hand-gun ban was passed by Congress in 2038. As a result, gun-related deaths and injuries have been reduced by 50 percent in the last 10 years.''
Copyright 2001 Miami Herald