by Jan Baughman
(Swans - October 24, 2005) The United States has come to be the antithesis of every slogan, fable, and legend on which it was founded; that is, with the exception of "In God We Trust," emblazoned on the almighty dollar -- our last remaining symbol of freedom. Only those with enough dollars are able to afford the life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness spelled out in our Constitution.
We have come to be a society that stands for Social Darwinism, originally referred to as Rugged Individualism. This was once a mythic trait that conjured up images of crossing the country in a covered wagon, through dust storms and over mountains, dodging thieves and Indians. The strong survived and transformed the Wild West into a promised land of milk and honey, where rice fields and lush green golf courses flourish in the desert. Only now, rather than having to overcome the physical elements to survive and succeed, one must overcome the hurdles imposed by poor education and health care, inadequate nutrition, and poverty wages.
What we stand for can be summed up in one word: Hypocrisy. We are a country that continues to view itself as being the best in the world, while the data demonstrate the opposite. The best in education? The U.S. leaves children behind, graduating students who can't read, allowing increasing minority dropout rates, and producing declining scores in math and sciences, while we simply throw money at measuring the pace of their decline.
The best in health care? If you can afford to buy health insurance and pay for the most expensive drugs and procedures in the world, then yes. Otherwise, the U.S. turns its back on 44 million (and growing) people without health insurance and continues to support a for-profit, reactionary system rather than socialized medicine and a focus on preventive care. Just imagine when the generation of obesity reaches middle age.
The best at freedom and democracy? We don't even know the meaning of the words. We hold sham elections, constantly draw up new districts to stack the deck in favor of the desired outcome, allow only the wealthy into the campaign process, and have no uniform, reliable method to cast and count ballots. Meanwhile, our civil liberties are quickly and quietly vanishing, most recently with the help of the Patriot Act, in the guise of homeland security.
The best at protecting our citizens? We've handed over our freedom and squandered hundreds of billions of dollars so that the government can be equipped to protect us from airplanes crashing into buildings, or anthrax attacks, or dirty bombs on mass transportation; yet when faced with a known and predicted threat, we're left with bodies floating in the streets and lives stranded without the means to escape and without food, water, or shelter. The obscene increases in the military budget have sucked the life out of state and local governments.
We are a fractionated nation, driven by self-interest and ego (the haves), or suppressed by poverty and ignorance (the have nots). It is difficult to find anything that is working in this country, save for the burgeoning plutocracy that We The People continue to feed.
The frightening questions that only time will answer are, where are we headed, and to what depth must we sink before we find the will to change the course?