Back in the 16th century, it took Ferdinand Magellan"s crew more than two years to sail around the world. Yesterday, a new record was set in the prestigious Vendée Globe solo sailing race, as French skipper Armel Le Cléac'h took just 74 days to circumnavigate our planet.
When such records are set, we tend to focus on the technological progress that makes that kind of speed possible. But what may be more remarkable is that the desire to take to the open seas in a vessel powered only by wind still tugs at our imagination. It's a reminder, perhaps, that the forces of nature are ultimately beyond the control of humans, that the world has actually not gotten any smaller.
Much of our planet, nonetheless, will be connected instantaneously today to follow events in Washington D.C., where the new "leader of the free world" will take the presidential oath of office. Donald Trump"s own world appears as small as his voice is loud. The leadership that he has promised is driven by a conviction (perhaps the only fixed political idea he has) that a world moving closer is a threat to the wellbeing of the United States.
From where we sit that looks nothing like progress, neither for the United States nor for the world. Still, popular democracy — a singular mast of human progress that did not exist 500 years ago — has spoken. So hold on, batten down the hatches, and Godspeed to us all.