GROPING FOR GREATNESS
EXPOSING AMERICA’S INSTITUTIONAL BREAKDOWN
America owes a debt of gratitude to Donald Trump. However, this debt will only matter if Trump’s rise in the Republican Party, Trump’s message, and the bile of his ardent supporters becomes a catalyst for long-overdue institutional introspection and reform. If there is one overriding message in the last two and half years of my essays in Hard Left Turn it is that America’s political and social institutions are broken and that the only thing exceptional about America is its collective and self-delusional willingness to believe in its own present greatness.
America is a powerful and dangerous nation, for sure, but a great nation does not allow the breakdown of the institutions that are fundamental to its political existence. Institutional failure has covered over entrenched poverty with rhetoric, allowed guns to overwhelm public safety, failed to address the rampant racism that infects our society, and allowed personal and corporate wealth to be accumulated without conscience and blatantly used to pollute our political discourse.
So thanks, Trump, for so brilliantly exposing the decline of a nation and reinforcing the notion that our institutions both cannot and will not stop the bleeding. To be certain, Trump can never be seen as a part of the solution, but he is a useful messenger who has brutally exposed some of America’s fetid national secrets.
Education and healthcare lag behind that in countries with far less available resources. America’s infant mortality rate is a national disgrace, significantly higher than that in most wealthy nations and many developing countries like Cuba – this in a nation in which the pious and their Republican acolytes blather so much about protecting the most vulnerable in society.** Children still go to bed hungry, heroin use among our youth is at epidemic levels, and homeless families await another winter with fundamental human needs not close to being met.
Yet, Congress doesn’t legislate at the Federal level, barely able to cynically underfund critical government functions. State and local government leaders pretend that their call for reduced taxation will somehow, perhaps through divine intervention, provide for upgrading crumbling infrastructure, rebuilding and equipping failing public schools, and meeting the basic social needs of our communities. The Supreme Court has subverted a creaking 200 year old Constitution to declare that corporations are people with first amendment rights and individual gun ownership is a supreme value more precious than the lives lost in its wake.
Trump says he alone will make America great again. He says that he will do so by reducing the constructive role that government plays in making any nation function, never mind great. He will reduce the commitment to collective taxation that funds every meaningful government program and the nation’s defense. And he will build America’s return to greatness by restoring a modern version of the white supremacy that is at the heart of America’s shameful past.
I continue to have some confidence that America will reject the messenger, but much less confidence that America will reject the ugly underbelly of his message. Either way, the message will be ignored at America’s peril. The moment for serious national institutional introspection and reform is at hand, yet no obvious leaders on the national stage seem poised to seize the moment.
I fear that in the aftermath of this most dispiriting of national elections, the institutions with most responsibility for the debacle are already gearing up for the next round without so much as a glance to the immediate past. The press, the Republican Party, the Democratic Party, Congress, and the organizational and corporate influence peddlers continue to play institutional defense in order to avoid meaningful reform.
Many seem ready to quickly forget that Trump’s message played well to those seeking a present rooted firmly in a sanitized past. Maybe more importantly, our “leaders” can’t wait to forget the clarion call of Bernie Sanders that resonated with so much of America’s future.
It is hard to know where to begin. If Trump somehow wins, the world will retreat from America, and many Americans will be forced to rely more than ever on government services managed by leaders who loathe governance and denigrate public service. If Hillary wins, the world will be confronted with a more dangerous and belligerent America, and far too many Americans will continue to advocate for their own benefits at the expense of community conscience.
Before choosing among deeply flawed alternatives, I want to state clearly this American’s fundamentals for a renewed America, a kind of personal manifesto if you will:
America must stop trying to kill its way to a better world;
protecting our environment must be made a collective and shared responsibility at home and abroad, loudly rejecting those who reject science;
confronting poverty and disease must be defined as moral imperatives at home and abroad;
internal gun violence must be confronted as the epidemic that it is;
universal access to healthcare and a good education must be accepted as rights, not privileges;
good government must be seen as the vehicle for positive change, and limited government must be recognized as the problem not the cure;
taxation must be encouraged as the most basic way that every citizen can participate in the common good;
working people must organize again to demand a living wage for all workers, equal pay for all workers, and safe, healthy, family-friendly working conditions for all workers;
corporations are not and must not be defined as people, and when managed by greedy people, they must be exposed as the enemy of the public good;
religious practice must have no place in public life – it properly belongs in churches, synagogues, and mosques where anyone who wants to can privately seek their god’s blessings for America or themselves or anyone else;
black lives must matter to all of us or the nation’s racial divide will continue to poison our communities;
immigrants and refugees must be welcomed to enrich our culture and strengthen our communities with solid values long ago forgotten in America;
societal diversity must be encouraged as a harbinger of commitment to principled development of community.
As this noxious election thankfully comes to an end, I hope that Americans will take a moment to reflect on what they have witnessed. The future for many in America depends on the lessons that all of us learn from this experience and our willingness to define a better world. And then actually do something to make it so.
** https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2091rank.html - includes the CIA notation that infant mortality rate “is often used as an indicator of the level of health in a country.”
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