Thursday, June 8, 2017

"The Sickness in the American Soul"

"The Sickness in the American Soul"
by Daniel Johnson

"As you read this, there are tens of millions of Americans who are sick at heart, in despair; overwhelmed by desolation, hopelessness and despondency. Some are suicidal; some are near suicidal. These are your friends and neighbors who have lost or are about to lose their homes, their jobs, their self-respect - and in every case their place in society. For tens of millions of people the American dream has become a nightmare. These are people who have come to rely on food banks, food stamps and private charity just to eat and feed their families (One in seven Americans, and one in four children, are on food stamps). They have been ground down in front of their children who will consequently internalize feelings of inferiority and impotence. Cast aside by society, many will give up, thinking - what's the use?

In the Michael Douglas movie "Falling Down," Vondie Curtis-Hall plays a man protesting outside a bank because they will not approve him for a loan. Eventually, a police car arrives and takes him away because he loudly protests to all and sundry that he is, according to the loan officer, not economically viable. This is the economic condition that increasing numbers of Americans find themselves in. Their crime? Believing in America and the American dream.

What is right in front of everybody's eyes is the fact that America, for all the mythology and pretending, is a savage society. It's all about business and making money that goes right to the founding of the nation. As forty-two year old Canadian freelance writer Brennan Clarke wrote in 2008: "As the holder of not one but two undergraduate arts degrees... I am quickly reminded by the working world that being intelligent and capable is no longer enough. You have to do something that makes somebody money."

After exactly one year of writing (and 100 articles) for and observing, analyzing and commenting on American society, I had come to see the United States through different eyes. America is a kakistocracy (rule by the worst), and by this I don't mean President Trump and his ilk. I refer to the capitalists, the money men, who through their greed have nearly (and may still) destroyed the global economy. (Andrew Cuomo said: "They think of themselves as kings and queens.") I don't need to elaborate on what they have done to American society. You can see it all around you; read it in the newspaper headlines; and hear the news anchors belaboring it. (You might live in one of the 25% of houses whose mortgages are underwater.)

Bob Herbert: "We still have a hideously dysfunctional public education system, one that has mastered the art of manufacturing dropouts and functional illiterates." As Susan Jacoby writes: "Our lack of a national curriculum, national teacher training standards and federal financial support to attract smart young people to the teaching profession all contribute mightily to the mediocre-to-poor performance of American students, year in and year out, on international education assessments."

In 1988 Jon Miller, director of the Public Opinion Laboratory at Northern Illinois University, conducted a survey of Americans for the National Science Foundation asking people about 75 questions to test their knowledge of basic science. The results showed that more than half - about 55 percent - of adult Americans didn't know that the Earth revolved around the sun once a year - of the 72 percent who answered correctly, 17 percent said one day, two percent said one month and nine percent didn't know. Miller concluded that "on very basic ideas, vast numbers of Americans are scientifically illiterate" (Associated Press, Oct 24, 1988). Based on a similar survey from 1985, the result was that only about five percent of adult Americans could be considered scientifically literate.

Twenty years later New York Times columnist Bob Herbert in a column appropriately titled "Clueless in America" (April 22, 2008) reported that "Ignorance in the United States is not just bliss, it's widespread. A recent survey of teenagers by the education advocacy group Common Core found that a quarter could not identify Adolf Hitler, a third did not know that the Bill of Rights guaranteed freedom of speech and religion, and fewer than half knew that the Civil War took place between 1850 and 1900."

He ended his column saying "nearly 20 percent of respondents did not know who the U.S. fought in World War II. Eleven percent thought that Dwight Eisenhower was the president forced from office by the Watergate scandal. Another 11 percent thought it was Harry Truman."

Bob Herbert: "The United States is broken - school systems are deteriorating, the economy is in shambles, homelessness and poverty rates are expanding - yet we're nation-building in Afghanistan, sending economically distressed young people over there by the thousands at an annual cost of a million dollars each." It's also a fair indictment of American society that many young men have to risk their lives in order to get ahead, when their luckier brethren do not. On this Bob Herbert says: "The idea that fewer than 1 percent of Americans are being called on to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq and that we're sending them into combat again and again and again - for three tours, four tours, five tours, six tours - is obscene. All decent people should object."

The sickness at the core of America's soul is selfish greed based on the misguided idea of American exceptionalism. Virtually from the beginning, Americans have believed they are a special people chosen by God. As a nation they believed (and continue to believe) that they had the God-given right to rule the earth and do whatever they wished. This has made America a rogue nation. Over the last century or more, they have overthrown and undermined legitimate governments all over the world. America, even today, feels no hesitation in starting wars and invading countries on the flimsiest (even bogus) pretexts. Over the last half-century, with only 5% of the world's population, the United States has gobbled up more energy and resources than any other nation. Americans today use a quarter of the world's energy and fossil fuels.

Can such profligacy continue? Not very likely. I never would have imagined it but it appears that we are seeing the unravelling of the United States before our very eyes. This does not mean that the physical country or its people will disappear. But a reorganization of the middle of the North American continent is overdue. As Bob Herbert concludes: "If America can't change, then the current state of decline is bound to continue. You can't have a healthy economy with so many millions of people out of work, and there is no plan now that would result in the creation of millions of new jobs any time soon."

The United States is what I have come to see as an artificial country, i.e., it is a patchwork of regions who have little or nothing in common other than pretending they belong to one nation (just like what is called the former Yugoslavia). Texas and California (25 and 36 million people, respectively) are so different than the rest of the country, that the citizens would probably be happier as their own sovereign countries. The same applies to the New England states as a group, and some of the states in the Pacific Northwest. There are other fracture lines, as well. A decade, a few decades from now will Europeans, Chinese and Japanese be talking about "the former America" just like today they talk about the former Soviet Union?

I can already see the comments by some American "patriots" declaring me wrong on every count and saying that America is powerful and will always prevail. They are in denial, arguing against the global evidence. But I'm not actually counting America out, not quite yet. There's an old saying that God looks after drunks and fools."

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