And as we all know, the benefits of the program accrue not only to those being served but also to those doing the serving. What would it mean to the future social cohesion of this country if a large part of the rising generation had a common experience of shared sacrifice? What would it mean to our future politics if young people from Berkeley spent a year working side by side with young people from Boise, Birmingham and Baton Rouge?

On the other hand, has any nation prospered that did not encourage in each new generation the habits of work, the taste for adventure, a sense of duty and a call to be of use to neighbors and the world?

We Americans suck at regimentation and blindly following orders from the top down. But we’re pretty good at local initiative, youthful dynamism and decentralized civic action. We need a Covid response that fits the kind of people we are. National service is an essential piece of that response.