“America is not the greatest country in the world” states Aaron Sorkin through the mouth of Jeff Daniels as Will McAvoy in the HBO series The Newsroom. I won’t reiterate the reasons why Sorkin/McAvoy believes that America is not the greatest country in the world. You can watch it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h__uutzcQXc&feature=related. And maybe you’ll agree, or maybe you’ll disagree vehemently and respond to that knee jerk reactionwith the belief that I must be a liberal and a commie and an ungrateful, unpatriotic person who does not deserve to be an American. That is as far away from the truth as you can get. I love my country, but I don’t love it blindly.
Sorkin/McAvoy point out that the United States is not number one in much of anything anymore, and we are not the only country that guarantees freedoms for our citizens. We don’t hear about those countries. We only hear about the ones who don’t. According to Sorkin’s info (and he does do his research), we are #1 in defense spending and the number of incarcerated individuals per capita in our jails. But we are “4th in literacy, 27th in math, 22nd in science, 49th in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality” and the list goes on. Granted figures never lie, and liars figure as the old saying goes, and some of these numbers may have changed since the script was written. But the truth is that after six decades of growing up and living in America, I have seen how we have ceased to be the land of my childhood, and in ways that these figures don’t reveal.
We had to rely on the Supreme Court for a ruling that would make it mandatory that people in this country have basic health care. Imagine. People have been fighting over people’s right to “life.” Hey, is that one of the tenets of our Declaration of Independence? Is not one of the key principles of our founding the right to “life,” and doesn’t that right include keeping our lives intact for as long as possible, given whatever means are at our disposal? Does that also not give us the right to end our lives when they are too difficult to bear? Yet, we fight the issue of medical marijuana because ‘big pharma” can’t make a nickel from it, and we have forbidden people the right to elect physician assisted suicide when their pain and suffering is unremitting and unbearable in cases of terminal illness. We argue that every embryo from the point of conception is a life that must be saved and then limit women’s access to free or low-cost health care to maintain the wellness of these unborn children. We use religion as a way to restrict a woman’s freedom to choose to have a child, but we see nothing wrong with taking ending a person’s life through capital punishment. How many innocent people have died, even with DNA testing because of poor representation or unreliable witnesses or irresponsible and biased juries? When I was a child, the family doctor came to our house. If we went to the office, it cost us $7. He didn’t have a fancy reception area, and he didn’t order unnecessary tests because he was afraid of malpractice suits. He treated you according to his education, skill, expience, and, often gut-feeling, and he got my family through some pretty difficult issues. We didn’t have for-profit hospitals (Which Einstein thought THAT was a good idea?)
We don’t let our kids play outside because we fear that they will be abducted or sexually molested, yet two recent court cases have shown that our children are more at risk from the adults we entrust them to than to strangers. Yet we care more that our kids can play Little League than that they actually learn something about the world around them. When I was a child – no older than 8 or 9, my mother would give me some money – maybe a dollar or two- and let me walk two miles “downtown” to the local Five and Dime to buy my school supplies. I was able to pick and choose what I needed, learn that money was something real that once spent was gone, and learn from some of the wrong choices I might have made. (A pen with a flower on top had less ink than the plain pen and cost more.) If I spent wisely, I had money for an ice cream or a candy bar. If I didn’t, I had to forego the treat. Now kids think that if you whip out plastic, every item in the store is yours. Money? They never see it. It’s become an intangible. Even to our government, money is an intangible, backed up by promises and not the gold it used to be.
We have stopped making progress. There is little if any forward motion in our country. We are at a dead stop. We are pushing out college graduates, yet have no jobs for them. It’s been like this on the graduate school level for years – the one reason I didn’t get a PhD was because the only guaranteed job at the end of ten years of college and a ton of student loans was “unemployed” or adjunct work. Now, many of my first -year college students will find themselves in the same position – either unemployed or clerking at the local convenience store, finally learning that their $60K in student loans does represent real money, as does their rent, car payments, insurance payments, and food. By then, Mom and Dad will be unable, for the most part, to continue to support them. We are heading to be a nation of strugglers – not people who “knew” that the next generation would have it better than we did because America was the best country in the world – a land of opportunity.
Yes, there are opportunities for some. But how many Steve Jobs and Steve Zuckerbergs are out there? Andy many of our biggest success stories are foreign born individuals who don’t take what we have for granted. We live in a country where intellectual property is our main production, and yet those same intellectual property pursuits by one erode the profit making of the intellectual property pursuits by others. Trying to become a published author who can make a living from the written word in an era of free blogs, cheap news, and self-publishing that profits only those who sponsor them, is getting to be nearly impossible.
How much do you pay for your cable TV bill or your cell phone? How about gas for your car, electricity for your home? How much did your last illness cost? When was the last time your elected officials put their heads together and came up with an idea that was actually helpful for all Americans? We have virtually no space program left; the food we eat is poorly monitored, and all anyone thinks about is what is in it for him or her. What happened to neighborhood watch programs, knowing who your neighbors are and looking after the elderly in your community? Why don’t we have safe sidewalks for walking, even though we have a growing obese population? Why do we try to legislate the size of soda purchases, yet allow growers to sell us genetically modified foods that are developed to create their own insecticides! Why do we spend good money after bad punishing crime instead of paying people decent wages so that parents can be home with their children more? My mother was home when I got home from school. Every day there was a fresh baked brownie, cake, or cookies waiting for me. And I wasn’t fat because I walked three miles round trip to school. I learned to watch out for strangers and had exercise daily in all sorts of weather. Now I see mothers in pajamas and robes drive their kids to the bus stop? Huh? Why don’t we see kids in playgrounds without their mothers keeping eagle-eyes, and what happened to not letting teachers call out grades as they returned papers? It sure made a lot of us study harder. Having your teacher say, “Tina – this is the highest grade in the class” was more motivation than anything I can think of. Consequently, the teacher who told me she had no idea what I’d drawn, made it clear that a career in art was not in my future. I then looked for those areas in which I excelled and concentrated my efforts there.
No, Sorkin through the voice of Will McAvoy is right. We are not the greatest country in the world, but we can be. We can stop being greedy and complacent and think about others for awhile. What good is leaving a healthy planet behind if the society that lives on it isn’t healthy in mind, body, and spirit. It’s not enough to be independent on the Fourth of July. It’s not enough to be “free.” We need to be responsible, and we need to strive to not sit back and wait for others to pass us by. Look in the rear view mirror. China’s coming.