Weekly Letter: Key Bridge Lessons for America

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The Francis Scott Key Bridge was more than a bridge to Americans. It stood where Francis Scott Key was inspired to pen what became our national anthem, as American forces defended the great city of Baltimore from British invaders during the War of 1812. It was an iconic symbol of the entrance to America.

As the bridge collapsed into the water at 1:30 am on Tuesday morning last week, it spoke to us. It spoke to Americans and it spoke to the world.

It said that infrastructure matters. It said that service matters. It said that immigration matters. It said those things so loudly and clearly that people are actually listening.

The Key Bridge infrastructure lesson goes beyond the convenience of a highway that cars and trucks use to get from one place to another. It’s linked to the Port of Baltimore, another gem of infrastructure that we now know drives our local and national economy. 

I met Monday afternoon with a room full of employers based at the port, and heard about their workforce, what they do, when layoffs are coming, and what can’t happen with the bridge blocking the shipping channel.

I’ll see President Biden tomorrow, the infrastructure president, the guy who delivered for America the long-promised infrastructure bill over the objections of nearly half of Congress. He’ll say that infrastructure is what makes America strong, and he’ll promise that as long as he remains President and has a willing Congress, the Key Bridge will be rebuilt, the Port of Baltimore will thrive, and our businesses will employ people.

The last ten days also tells us that public service matters. The daily briefings to the public, and the private briefings that I’ve attended, are a very clear response to anyone who believes we need to “drain the swamp” of government by replacing career civil servants with political appointees. 

Our men and women in the Coast Guard, in the Army Corps of Engineers, and throughout all of the federal, state, and local agencies involved in managing this disaster are not rookies. They have done this kind of work before, and without their experience there would be no unified command, no reopening of the port in a timely manner, and no new Key Bridge. Governor Moore is relying on these experts, allowing them to do their jobs without political interference, and he is putting them in front of the cameras to speak directly to the American people. And people are listening.

Why immigration? Because every single one of the six men lost in the Key Bridge collapse, the good men tending to the bridge’s needs in the middle of the night, was an immigrant. 

Not only that, but each of them came to the United States across the southern border. They are the very people that half of the United States Congress wants to ban from the country, despite all of the studies showing that immigration is a part of the reason that our country has the strongest economy in the world today. The Key Bridge tells us the same story that Republican leaders from Lincoln to Reagan told, that immigration is what makes America strong.

Messengers also matter, and the Key Bridge collapse made Governor Wes Moore and Mayor Brandon Scott messengers to the world. I don’t know whether their ancestors were in this area when foreign invaders were repelled at the site of the Key Bridge, but if so it’s unlikely that they enjoyed any of the rights that those soldiers fought to protect. But today they are spokespeople to the world, spokespeople for the resilience of Baltimore, the resilience of Maryland, and the resilience of America. And people are listening.

And if they are listening hard and listening well, they might hear the souls of the soldiers who fought back the invaders in 1812 - telling us to wake up. Wake up and rescue our values. Hold dear the things that make our country strong, far stronger than it was in 1812, and defend against whatever threat may be sailing up that river.

Steuart Pittman
Anne Arundel County Executive