My situation is this. After living outside the USA in both Europe and Asia, then returning to America a few years ago, I felt, and increasingly feel, upset both at the political state of the nation, under the semi-fascistic Bush-Cheney regime, and the general state of the society. This "reverse culture shock" that I have experienced has caused me to feel a rising sense of concern that America is in very sad shape, falling behind other nations in nearly every area except for our superior military power. Our education system? Going down. Our health care system? A cruel joke on the poor and middle class, but a great boon to HMO and insurance companies. Our transportation system? Overcrowded highways; local roads full of potholes; crumbling bridges and tunnels; perpetually underfunded and steadily declining train service; dirty, shabby airports that insult the traveler. Our facilities for our youth? A clear message to them that we do not care about them, despite the political rhetoric about children being "America's future." Yes, they will be our future, and what a bleak future it may be...Clockwork Orange springs to mind, or is it Lord of the Flies? And what about our economy? Rigged to serve the already-wealthy, and to squeeze every lost drop out of blood out of the average wage-earner, whose wages stand still or go down, while the top one percent of the population reap massive benefits from the stock market and the exploitation of workers both at home and abroad.
I ask you, is this a healthy society? I fear that we are falling far behind other nations like Singapore, Japan, South Korea, and Finland, to name but a few of the many countries that seem to be charting a more positive and progressive course than the good old US of A. Yes, the "good old"....a meaningful phrase that suggests the sad truth that America seems to be past its prime, to have lost its way, to have forgotten how to take care of itself and its people. The more progressive countries that I mention all have one thing in common: they have governments that invest in their public services, such as education, health care, transportation and infrastructure, rather than, as in America, starving our public services in order to pump more money into the military and the coffers of the corporations. There seems to be only one public service that is indisputably well-funded these days: the prison system. What could be a more succinct statement of totally warped and misguided priorities than the sad fact that our main solution to social problems is to throw people into prisons, when these are nothing but schools for crime, despair, gang organization and drug addiction? When did we stop believing in helping and reforming people, and become convinced that punishment was the ONLY option?
The list of sadly underfunded needs in our public life is endless, as are the pathetic excuses, and the appalling disregard for any solution that does not come out of private enterprise or charity, which is a horrible hangover from the so-called "Reagan Revolution."
Money for public schools? No way. Give students "choice" to go to private schools, and let the public schools collapse.
Money for public works, like libraries, roads, youth centers, bridges, sewers, subways? Sorry. We don't do public works anymore. That is for corporations to decide if and when they want to put their logo onto something.
Money for a national health care system? Ridiculous. We have the best health care system in the world, even if many cannot afford it because they are too poor or lazy.
Money for high-tech military systems that often do not even work? Sure, no problem.
Money for better schools and teachers, especially in the poor urban and rural areas that cannot afford them? No, let's just let the urban kids die in gangs, and pressure the young rural kids to join the military, so they can travel abroad, die there, or come back physically and/or psychologically injured, so that they can then enjoy the benefits of our excellent health care system.
Money for public art and gardens, so that even poor people can feel that there is some beauty in their lives? Sorry, that would be a waste of public funds. All we need are shopping malls and sports stadiums.
Money for invading, destroying and then rebuilding other countries? No problem; here's a blank check, or would you like two?
A job program to put unemployed young people to work and give them a positive start in the society? No way, that's what prisons and the military are for.
Your tax dollars at work, creating a harsher and harsher, more punitive and paranoid society, and causing a continual decline in America's standing in the world.
Many Americans seem to accept the proposition put forward by the Bush-Cheney regime and its supporters that massive military spending and the use of force against other nations that we dislike or disagree with or feel threatened by is necessary for our "national security," particularly in our supposedly apocalyptic "post-9/11 world." Let me tell you what the real threat to people's actual, personal, real-life security is. It is the lack of health care services for a large cross section of the population with either no health care insurance or constant fear about losing it. THAT is a real and present danger, unlike the fictional boogeyman of the Islamic terrorist who is supposedly lurking around every corner, under every bed, and inside every mailbox waiting to explode, like the "commie" terror of the 1950s. Death by cancer, heart disease or obesity, and the lack of affordable treatment for such conditions, are a much greater threat to the average person than the terrorist boogeyman.
Death on the highway or in a traffic accident is much more likely than attack by a suicide bomber, yet our bizarre solution to the problem of death-by-driving is not to invest in safer roads and better highway systems, not to mention more mass transit options to take people off the overcrowded roads, but to buy and sell bigger and more threatening truck-cars that we believe will enable us to survive any collisions, even if the other drivers will be crushed by the massive heft of our menacing, increasingly Sherman Tank-like vehicles.
Rising crime in many cities is a real threat, but our insistence on a punishment-only response is fueling a cycle of despair and violence that suggests the worst is yet to come. And then there is global warming, the biggest threat to our national security of all. This is the one that could make us go the way of the dinosaurs. If the environment goes down, so do we, regardless of how many military forces we march into the desert or how many flags we wave in patriotic hysteria. This is where the Bush-Cheney regime, in alliance with the oil industries, has perhaps done more damage than anywhere else.
My basic question to America is, why do we accept this miserable state of affairs? Why don't we think more about the other nations that are doing well in taking care of basic social needs or even moving ahead of us, and take some inspiration and direction from them? The basic answer is "American exceptionalism," the idea that we are INHERENTLY different from and better than everybody else. This is a sad illusion. We are part of the world community, fellow humans with the same human needs as other countries, and if we don't watch it, we are going to become the has-been "great power" of the 21 st century. We may still have a huge military force that can threaten other countries abroad, but if the "war at home" is lost, if we allow our society to continually deteriorate and become ever more cruel, ignorant and shabby, we will come to resemble a country that we currently like to joke about, a nation that devotes almost all of its resources to military development while neglecting basic human needs to the point of mass starvation: North Korea! If we don't want that fate, we have to start thinking about how to invest in American society, not just the American military.