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I’ve been contemplating the significance of the Fourth of July – today, conveniently since it is that day – with mixed feelings.
When I think of my friends, without whom I would have been lost since arriving here from Ireland, I have no doubt at all that this is a truly Great Nation. They have turned out to be amazing people; consistently welcoming, entertaining, and supportive through more mishaps and adventures that I care to reveal. If they represent the essence of America, then all is well with the world. But I fear that although they make a significant contribution, they do not. And they are worried about the future with very good reason.
When I think of the fabric of this country, of its hills, mountains, plains and vistas – and I drove across it a year ago – I am awestruck at what I have both seen and felt. Experiencing the sheer scale and majesty of this land is a profound emotional experience. Crossing this great continent is something every American should do at least once, and I hope to be privileged to do it more often. There is much to see, and even more to think about. I had been told that, as like as not, I would be bored during the roughly five days it took. Not a bit of it! I was fascinated.
When I think of this country’s political and economic systems – and they are unhealthily intertwined - I have to say that it is hard not to feel profoundly depressed. This United States of America has evolved into a nation run – quite blatantly - by the Rich and Corporate Interests, and those who serve them, with results that are to the great disadvantage of the majority of the population. The rich are getting richer, the balance of the population is losing ground, and a significant percentage of the population is finding that its basic economic goals – let alone the American Dream - are becoming more and more unachievable.
We are the most powerful nation, in military terms, in the world; yet a quarter of our children live in poverty, 45 million are on food stamps, around 20 percent are either unemployed or underemployed, wages and salaries for most are in decline, unions are being stamped out, worker rights are minimal, the housing market has betrayed the Middle Class to the tune of trillions of dollars, our savings rate is entirely inadequate, retirement is becoming a fast fading dream for most people, third level education is becoming unaffordable, and our health care costs are twice that of other developed nations. And that is far from a full list of our woes. We are enmeshed in wars, our military expenditure rivals that of the west of the world put together, the maintenance of our infrastructure is trillions of dollars in arrears, we have no energy policy, we are losing international competitiveness, the dollar is heading towards losing its status as a reserve currency, our K12 education is entirely inadequate, and we are politically divided as near never before except, perhaps, prior to the Civil War.
Most serious of all is the fact that we seem to have absolutely no idea where we are going. Right now we seem to be heading towards becoming a nation where a few do outstandingly well – and the majority struggle, but conform because they are forced to. Social control, whether it be economic or legal, is very strong in this country, and the penalties for deviating are severe. One could call it a form of twenty-first century feudalism; and it is approaching fast. It is, of course, the very antithesis of freedom. Perhaps that doesn’t matter, if those who are so controlled, distracted, drugged and manipulated, merely think they are free. It must be admitted that we are a reality averse nation.
My personal opinion is that despite the ravages of the Great Recession (which, as far as most are concerned, still continues) most Americans have not joined the dots and don’t understand the full implications of what is happening. Certainly, there is great concern, but it is geared more towards hoping that “the economy will recover” rather than appreciating that America’s problems are structural – and severe - and that reverting to the status quo – for instance the Nineties – is not the answer; because the structure is unsound, and was then. In fact, the U.S. has been going adrift since the early Seventies.
If our problems are structural, and as severe as indicated, where do they lie?
- Greed has become our only guiding principle.
- This tolerance of greed is ably assisted by the relative ignorance of the American people as a whole. We prefer entertainment to information – and our corporately owned media ensure that is what we get. We are a distracted nation rather than an informed one – and the price for that is democracy.
- Our political system has been bought at national, state and local level by the Rich & Special Interests.
- Our Constitution no longer protects us. It needs reform (as the founders envisaged) starting off with the elimination of the fiction that a corporation is a legal person.
- Corporate power needs to be reined in drastically.
- The power of the financial sector is of particular concern. Its profits represent a de-facto tax on the economy; primarily, Wall Street is little more than a casino; its dominance of corporate earnings (30-40 percent) is unhealthy; it doesn’t provide the investment the bulk of America needs; and the fact that it needs to be baled out every few years by the taxpayer is unfair, unjust, morally wrong; and destabilizing to the economy as a whole.
- Out tax system has become so unfair as to be risible. How can one justify multi-billionaires paying tax at half the rate of ordinary Americans.
- The American Business Model no longer delivers for the average American. It is also delivering inferior results compared to most of our international competition. We could, of course, learn from them. Instead, we have engaged in a race to the bottom.
This list does not pretend to be comprehensive. It is intended merely as food for thought, a starting point.
What is most alarming about all this is the fact few of these issues are being discussed on a national basis, let alone are being featured in the up and coming presidential campaigns. Instead, we have debates without substance and a primary focus on the race rather than the issues.
Worryingly, both parties are in bed with the Rich and Special Interests.
None of this bodes well for the country as whole; and it’s wrong. It makes a nonsense of Independence Day. In truth, mostly it marks just another day into our decline.
Paul Revere, where are you when we need you?