Sunday, December 27, 2015

Things Are Not Working

I wonder if it is time to admit that Things Are Not Working?

I’ve always been a strong believer that the United States, as a country, has been a grand experiment based on the best principles humans could conceive at the time. Yes, the French came up with Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité, but it was Americans who decided to truly give these concepts a shot on a national basis. Now I wonder if the experiment is failing.

When creating the basis for the nation, the Founding Fathers didn’t do it perfectly. Originally only white male landowners would have the vote and it was this middle and upper class that was tasked with finding leaders and seeing to it that the elected public servants governed adequately and responsibly. More than a century later, women were enfranchised, as were as racial minorities, though the path was never a smooth one. The country’s basic philosophy asssumes that given the opportunity, people would want and cherish the ability to have a hand in their future. This makes sense. Revolutions arise because of popular dissatisfaction among the have-nots and the can-nots. Once rights have been fought for and gained, they are preciously safeguarded.

In our times, though, the real have-nots are an almost vanished breed. Yes, there remains poverty and hunger and homelessness, but the overwhelming majority of Americans has roofs over their heads, enough to eat, physical mobility, and credit.

The latter has allowed people to buy things without paying for them, and to enjoy what is now considered the pursuit of happiness: a wide-screen television, cable service, cheap food, and a tolerable physical environment. People are relatively satisfied within these cocoons where basic needs are met. They have purchasing power through their credit cards and their daily lives are not unpleasant. So why agitate for change? Why vote? Why remove one’s self from the comforts of home to go to a polling place and express opinions? Freedom in America is a six-pack of Miller Light, pizza, and Monday Night Football.

Americans vote less, per capita, than do the inhabitants of any other free country in the world. What is considered a privilege elsewhere is seen as a hindrance here.

This non-involvement in the running of the nation has allowed a plutocracy to reign; our elected servants have found a sinecure, and devote far more time to keeping their jobs than to serving their constituents. What was once a nation that sought the best and the brightest, has basically stopped caring and become bovinely satisfied with the lowest common denominator.

The present electoral system doesn’t help. I’m reasonably sure the nation’s forefathers could never have foreseen society as it exists now. The documents they drafted—a constitution, a bill of rights, a comprehensive set of laws—were aimed at protecting a system that no longer exists and dealing with the predicaments of a nascent society. Could the lawmakers have foreseen the women’s movement? Vietnam? Millions of cheap and powerful weapons in the hands of irresponsible people? A system of higher education that bankrupts the students? A nation where the wealth is so unevenly distributed?  Could they have conceived the realities of oil spills, depleted ozone layers, global warming, rising oceans levels and man-made droughts?

Probably not. What they beheld was a vast land with unheard-of natural wealth, and a population willing to risk it all for the freedom to roam and eventually settle.  They weren’t fools; they were painfully aware of human foibles and shortcomings, but I doubt that they could even conceive of the greed involved and accepted in today’s business practices.

Things are different today. We live in reactionary times. Rules and regulations are enacted after the catastrophes, not before. We largely shrug off daily catastrophes that include the daily murders of children and the assassinations of presidents. We often enact laws willy-nilly (a great British expression that dates from the 1600s) to fend off perceived threats. We protect assets rather than people, and have come to see wealth as synonymous with success, which it rarely is. We cannot pay our debts, individually or nationally, and yesterday’s carefully built infrastructure—roads, bridges, dams, canals, power grids, water and sewage treatment centers—are falling apart. We cannot afford to rebuild.

We are the only developed country without truly affordable health care, and many nations far poorer than the States put our system to shame. Though we claim to regulate our drugs, we have no cap on prescription costs

Since World War II, we have lost three major wars—Korea, Vietnam and Iraq—and been involved in scores of lesser conflicts, most of them failing propositions that cost billions of dollars and hundreds of lives. Our veterans cannot find work and must wait months for medical treatment.

Things Are Not Working. We’ve reached a point of no return and it’s time to rethink the system from top to bottoms.


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