I am currently on a flight back from Texas a few days after my mother’s funeral. So naturally, I am sad – but not just for that. I am sad for America.
Although I was born in England, I have always considered myself to be American. I grew up there. I went to High School there. I went to University there. I never planned to be living in England for as long as I have. I am as patriotic as any of my American friends. But after these past two weeks, I find myself eager to get home to England.
It has been four years since my last trip “home.” Four years ago, my wife and I were able to spend six months living in Dallas and travelling around the western states. We had the most amazing time. America is truly a land of opportunity and its people are the friendliest, most optimistic, determined, and willing you will find on this planet. I was able to demonstrate to my wife so clearly why the States tugs on my heartstrings so strongly. And I was finally able to start planning for my inevitable return home.
Not this time. At the moment, America is in a dark place and I am currently unsure if can find its way out.
Everyone is hurting from the economic downturn – far more than those of us in the UK. The official unemployment rates is around 10% but that does not include the self-employed and others on the outskirts of government statistics. The more accurate figures are supposed to be around 22%. And you feel it – everywhere.
Empty shops in every mall and strip mall. Car dealerships closed. Restaurants closed and those that are open are practically empty. My wife and I went to the movie theatre and were joined by only six others. When we left, the entire twelve screen mega-complex was deserted apart from the handful of employees trying to look busy. The same thing happened at a large shopping mall – we actually had to start actively looking for people.
My brother was unemployed for a year until recently. Other self-employed friends have not seen work for almost three years. Many I know have been laid off or have had contracts end abruptly. Optimism is in short supply.
But the economy is not the only reason that I am sad for America.
America was founded by a group of the most amazing men. I doubt the world has ever seen a such greatness at one time and perhaps never will. They designed a political system with power where it is needed (local, state, or federal) and with the necessary checks and balances to keep its guiding principles of liberty and justice for all safe. But despite their greatness, they failed in predicting the influence of lobbyists and the “licensed corruption” of legislative riders.
American politics is an expensive business. Politicians need to be independently wealthy or become dependent on the donations of corporations, wealthy individuals or others who naturally expect some access if not influence in return.
Most people I speak to in America now believe that their government is corrupt in one way or another. Some of this corruption seems to be monetary in the form of an over reliance on major contributors or worse. But more troubling is that most of this corruption has become “standard practice” in American politics. It seems that in order to get a bill passed in congress at the moment, you need to grease the palms of congressmen with riders that give them small personal victories. For example, if you are trying to get a bill passed on financial reform, then you will end up adding totally unrelated amendments such as the building of bridges to a Senator from Wisconsin or grain subsidies for a Senator from Kansas in order to get the votes you require. To me, this is as much corruption as taking some financial reward.
Everyone complains about this problem – but no one seems to be dealing with it. The current “solution” coming from groups like the Tea Party seem to be to simply reduce the size of government. Which seems like it would simply have a scaling effect rather than actually solving it. Everyone else seems to simply accept it as the way “Washington works.”
So my shining example of a perfect political system has been destroyed and is broken perhaps beyond repair. But this is not the only reason I am sad for America.
The levels of bias in the media seem to be unprecedented. The concept of OpEd has quietly disappeared. Despite access to the world at large via the internet, most everyday people get their news and analysis from a single media source. When this news comes from networks like FoxNews and the like, then it starts to get scary. I am not suggesting that everything that these channels broadcast is wrong or incorrect, but they lean so far into their own agenda that the opposing view is either drowned out or made to appear ridiculous.
So if you have a large percentage of the population with only one primary source of news that is totally biased towards one viewpoint and who is in effect filtering the news for its audience – then you have a very powerful and influential resource to do harm.
I believe in freedom of the press. But I also believe in reporting news to your audience based on facts and with balance. Imagine the power and influence a handful of men (e.g. Glenn Beck) have on a large number of devoted and perhaps slightly brainwashed people! So who is watching “the watchers” in America today?
And so I am sad for America. She has lost her lustre. She has lost her optimism. She is dazed and confused and is being led astray. And like my mom, she has cancer. I just hope that this time there is a doctor out there who can remove it all and that she survives to live another day.