By Alejandro Grattan-Dominguez
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So Whatever Happened . . .?
Some time ago, in reviewing the HBO series The Newsroom, this column mentioned that the actor Jeff Daniels, playing the title role, had, in answer to the question, “Isn’t America the most exceptional country in the world?” replied, “No, but we used to be.” He was referring, of course, to the “Greatest Generation,” which had valiantly struggled through the Great Depression and then played a critical central role in winning the most catastrophic war in history. So whatever happened to that wonderful country that was once a beacon of hope to the entire world?
The newsman mentioned above had spoken the truth because according to the top twenty universal yardsticks by which a nation is evaluated (such as Infant Mortality, etc.), the United States is woefully far down from the top in nearly every category.
Recently, this view has been reinforced with the publication of the 2014 Social Progress Index. Its findings make for somber reading.
In the Category Of:
• Basic Human Needs, the US ranks 23rd.
• Nutrition/Basic Medical, the US ranks 24th.
• Water/Sanitation, the US ranks 33rd.
• Basic Shelter, the US ranks 9th.
• Personal Safety, the US ranks 30th.
• Access to Basic Knowledge, the US ranks 38th.
• Health and Wellness, the US ranks 70th.
• Personal Freedom & Choice, the US ranks 22nd.
• Tolerance and Inclusion, the US ranks 13th.
Moreover, the findings of this study have been buttressed by research done by Princeton and Northwestern Universities that concludes that “the US government does not represent the interests of the majority of the country’s citizens, but is instead ruled by the rich and powerful.”
Another world-wide study that would seemingly reflect this was done by the Legatum Institute, which found that in the category of “well-being and life satisfaction,” the US ranked 11th. Most of the Top Ten were Scandinavian countries. In the “Happiness Factor,” Switzerland ranked #1, Canada #3, Mexico #9, the USA #17. Bottom Line: 20% of the American people are under the Poverty Line—and the U.S. has the second highest child poverty rates in the entire developed world.
What remains undeniable is that the United States continues to be the richest, most powerful country in the world—but as much of the previously cited findings prove, such power, prestige and wealth does very little for the average citizen when 40% of the country’s wealth is owned by 1% of the population. This incredible disparity between the rich and poor is the widest ever recorded, and began its latest incarnation with Ronald Reagan’s “Trickle-Down Theory,” which never worked and never will, according to the overwhelming majority of internationally-recognized economists. As proof of this, the federal minimum wage has not even kept pace with the rising costs of basic necessities for working families—and today, it is worth less than it was in the early 1980s!
The newest version of the theory is now being promoted by Republican Congressman Paul Ryan (and possible presidential nominee in 2016)—who is both an advocate of Ayn Rand’s creed of selfish individualism, and is also a devout Catholic, whose current leader, Pope Francis, is taking the Church back to the teachings of Christ and His compassionate concern for the poor. It will be interesting to see who wins the battle for Ryan’s soul.
The larger issue is whether the U.S. finally recognizes its serious shortcomings, or instead wallows in its delusion of “exceptionalism” until it’s too late to solve these problems. Yet the super wealthy still think everything is just dandy—and no national problem has ever been remedied until there was a consensus that there was a problem. As democracy in the United States’ rapidly degenerates into plutocracy—much like that which existed in the lead-up to the French Revolution—could a 21st century version of the “storming of the Bastille” be far behind?
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