Is Something Wrong with America?

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If might makes right, America is the most righteous nation to ever exist.

Most Americans—if you asked them before 911would tell you nothing is wrong with America. America is where everyone wants to be. People risk everything to come here. End of story. And by the way, if you don’t like it, leave.

The attitude of most Americans before September 11, 2001 was to willfully and blissfully ignore the many blunders for which the United States is renowned in the rest of the watching world.

These blunders include but are not limited to:

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Codifying slavery in our Constitution (Article IV, Sec. 2)

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Southern States fighting the Civil War to preserve slavery.

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Conducting genocidal wars against native Americans.

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Depriving Negroes of their freedom after fighting a bloody civil war to give them their freedom.

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Permitting our country to slide into a Great Depression while doing almost nothing to fix it.  (Free coffee and donuts?)

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Dropping atomic bombs on Japanese cities.

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Killing 20% of the population during a senseless war in Korea.

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Allowing gangsters to run our cities.

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Unleashing a bloodbath of assassinations against politicians and entertainers in the nineteen-sixties and seventies.

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Executing foreign leaders (among them, Che Guevara, pictured above) while launching Bay-of-Pigs style military operations against small countries like Cuba, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Chile.

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Conducting a genocidal war in Vietnam—simply to test a new generation of weapons. Jane Fonda, pictured above, was among the first who said it wasn’t right.

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Overturning sixty years of tax law in the 1980s to allow undemocratic concentrations of wealth.

and on and on and so on.

In 2001 Americans believed these idiocies lay in our past; our distant past. They were symptomatic of nothing; not worth noticing, analyzing or fixing. They had nothing to do with now. Nothing was going on now that we needed to fret about or repair. Like Alfred E. Neuman of Mad Magazine, Americans could say, What, me worry?

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World Trade Center Twin Towers.

In 2001 the Twin Towers came down. Buried in the rubble lay two-hundred billion dollars of 99.997% pure gold ingot (allegedly recovered).

The oil-rich Bush family‘s first reaction was to take the world to war. The ramp-up was egged on by profiteers, as war always is. And Wall Street insiders, under the cover of the War on Terror, began to deploy contrived financial instruments like bundled sub-prime mortgage derivatives (which obfuscated risk) to better suck dry the deep pools of the world’s wealth unaware.

America the great recession chart_net_worth_line.03Blunders came fast and furious. By 2008 the leaders of the United States had made so many mistakes they created a financial meltdown. Millions of people lost their homes and jobs. The middle class lost fifty-five percent of its accumulated wealth—much of it in retirement accounts. The situation became dire, causing some people to believe God was punishing the USA for its sins.

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Jeremiah Wright was Barack Obama’s pastor before he made his historic run for president. During the early years of Obama’s term, hundreds of retired Chicago police officers set up a perimeter defense around Jeremiah’s church every week to protect congregants from death threats. Obama resigned his membership to protect his friends from harm. It worked. Over the years the threats decreased; the church survived.

People decided to turn around and do the unthinkable: elect the nation’s first black president. His pastor, Jeremiah Wright, screamed, the chickens have come home to roost, on all the news shows. Some people thought, maybe Barack Obama can calm down our angry God.

But as of 2014—six years after the near-fatal financial meltdown—the USA continues to hover on the precipice of a Soviet Union style collapse.

It’s time to ask the question: Is something wrong with America?  And maybe one more: Is something wrong with Americans?

Before we ask or answer questions like these, perhaps we should ask an even larger question. Is America a place where people have any chance at all to do well over time? 

It might be that geography and geology on this side of the globe are not suitable for civilization or sustained human activity. Whoever lives on this side—whatever their values or culture—may, in the long run, not matter.

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Historically, large populations of humans have been unable to establish themselves for long periods on our hemisphere.

The Americas have been inhospitable to humankind. Looking back over the eons, a case can be made—due to earthquakes, volcanoes, meteor hits, frequent ice ages, predatory animals, mosquito and insect bred diseases, droughts, floods, wild fires and hurricanes—that large populations of humans have simply not been able to establish themselves on our hemisphere for long periods; nor will they, ever.

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This disturbing graphic is one artist’s depiction of volcanic eruptions at Yosemite National Park—now a hundred years overdue.

In fact, it wasn’t until 1920 that the population in North America reached a hundred million people. It is conceivable—under reasonably imagined scenarios—that the population of North America will soon collapse.

Many geologists believe the mammoth volcano buried beneath Yosemite National Park will erupt someday. If it does, surviving humans will have to start over.

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Coastal shelf off Los Angeles, California

Other geologists believe seismic activity in the west may one day cause the loss of sizable portions of our continental shelf, perhaps precipitating a cataclysmic flood. Earthquakes in the Cascadia subduction zone have wiped-out huge swaths of our Pacific Northwest forty-one times in the last ten-thousand years. The next earthquake/tsunami is a hundred-and seven years overdue.

It is often said California is the eighth largest economy in the world. Should California or the Pacific Northwest slide into the Pacific Ocean, it would be hard for the rest of North America to keep going.

In addition to the deaths of forty million people, intensive seismic activity and floods could destroy California’s four civilian nuclear reactors (one active, but all storing dangerous quantities of radioactive waste) and the military’s nuclear sites, nuclear powered ships, and submarines. High-level radioactive waste would then pollute the Pacific Ocean and our coastal areas for many thousands of years (much like the disaster now unfolding in Fukushima, Japan).

The question of whether our continent is suitable to support an advanced civilization for more than a few hundred years remains to be answered. It’s not clear to me that it can.

But let’s return to our original question: Is something wrong with America?  

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Oakland, California Occupy Wall Street Riots, November 2011

Why does a country with our values do bad things? Why so much inequality, crime and perversion? Why so much addiction, pervasive drug use, bullying, child abuse, domestic violence and murder?

Why generational wars, gated communities, blighted inner cities, militias, and political extremism? Why concentration of wealth for the few and debt and despair for the many? Why the increase in home schools and private academies in a nation whose founding virtue was public education for every citizen?

Why so much hatred directed against a people whose only crime was hating slavery, Jim Crow segregation, and the current horrors of discrimination in hiring, housing, health care, and policing?

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Why so much inequality, crime and perversion?

Why can’t black people, for example, catch a  break after everything they’ve put up with, from lynchings to (for one black man, at least) being ridiculed on national television for mispronouncing correct answers on Jeopardy?

When we ask questions like these, it seems clear (to me at least) that something sinister is wrecking havoc on our dreams and aspirations. Something fundamental about the way we think and problem-solve is not serving us well.

Europeans like to point out that Americans solve problems by selecting and working through all the wrong solutions first. It’s what makes us so sure we’re right, when we finally stumble on the correct solution.

But how about another view? We live in a country where powerful people once owned slaves. Industrial tycoons operated private militias to control restless employees. We live in a country where an entitled, strong-willed aristocracy has ruled for centuries a population who believes itself to be free; a democracy.

Old habits of thought and action have been handed down from each generation to the next on both sides.

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Cosmetic industry tycoons, Mr. & Mrs. Lauder

The powerful and wealthy have learned they can hire spokesmen (like Rush Limbaugh and Tom Brokaw, for example) to play on the fears, aspirations and assumptions of common people to better confuse and seduce them into serving their interests. This manipulation of one class of people by another has led to a schizophrenic dynamic, which is one of the reasons people in other countries and cultures think we are crazy.

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Possible future if we don’t secure our democracy.

The lunacy will not end anytime soon. It seems our country is determined to follow its aristocracy wherever it leads. History is full of examples of elites who—deluded, depraved, and out of touch—led their civilizations into the abyss. It’s why our ancestors invented democracy—so cliques of wealthy, well-connected power-trippers couldn’t harm us.

Alas, democracy is not a form of government the elites of the world favor. And we may have lost our democracy a long time ago. Perhaps we never had one. We simply imagined we did, because our rulers told us so.

Billy Lee

Post Script (19 October 2017): Nineteen months after the publication of this essay, Americans elected a self-proclaimed billionaire who was unvetted as to his physical and mental health; unvetted as to his financial status; unvetted in his foreign entanglements; and lacking any experience whatever in the art of politics.

He lost the popular election by over three million votes, which he blamed on illegal voting by immigrants. He is now being investigated by the Justice Department and committees in both the Senate and the House of Representatives for conspiring with an unfriendly foreign power to rig the outcome.

He has never served in the military, yet he is threatening to take Americans to war with Korea and Iran. Something is wrong with this picture. He is dismantling health care and unleashing the immigration pit-bulls on a population of young people who have no memory of having ever lived outside the United States.

It seems like a bull is loose in the china-shop. Maybe Billy Lee is right. If so, we are screwed. We really are. When this nightmare is over, a lot of broken glass is going to be lying around that we will somehow have to clean-up.

The good news? America has a way of surviving catastrophes of its own making. We’re good at managing unnatural disasters that we inflict on ourselves. Maybe this time the chances are one in a million. Jim Carey said in the movie Dumb and Dumber, one in a million means we still have a chance. We might survive the mess of a failed presidency. It’s possible. Who knows?  

THE EDITORIAL BOARD

Billy Lee

About Billy Lee

Billy Lee is a retired machine designer. His bona-fides include: raised a Navy brat; former anti-Vietnam War activist; Francophile; math lover; Egyptology enthusiast; MSU grad; likes Blues and Culver’s fish sandwiches; father; grandfather; married to Bev, his best friend; Christian—but loves Obama, Hillary, and the gay people. Biggest problem facing civilization?—lack of CAPS on income, which permit the wealthy to loot corporations and public institutions. Possession by anyone of excessive wealth must be a felony enforced by international courts. The alternative is to continue the widespread poverty and human misery that have plagued civilization from before forever.

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4 Responses to Is Something Wrong with America?

  1. Emily says:

    You, Ken and I should go picket the capital. I agree with all the above.

  2. Bob says:

    You have an interesting and simplified view of the current world and America which makes pondering the question of what’s wrong with America result in conclusions that are cliché-ic and incomplete, often times not accurate and most certainly not restricted to a population on one continent. The question you ask, in my opinion, is as old as creation and is specific to the entire human race. And its answer is as simple as: Man does and has for centuries denied the order of the laws of nature, the universe, and God.

    When man turned his back on his spirituality and God and rationalized he was the center and controller of all things, he sealed his fate. Destined to live from that moment in a fallen world, his only escape is to seek the “truth” which is buried in his soul and planted in his DNA by the Creator himself.

    Those who deny such a being exists contradict the very clear and undeniable evidence that there is in fact order to the world and the universe. Every environmentalist, scientist, and most of the population will argue that point every day with statements of how tenuous creation is and how important it is that no species become extinct or weather patterns altered lest cataclysmic results will ensue. Further, morality, ethics and justice are inseparable from spirituality and God. Without God, you can’t have morality, ethics, or justice.

    Man’s counterfeit attempts to produce those traits without God is impossible without God in the equation. In such a world man only answers to man. And who is one man to tell another what is moral or what is justice? Shall Hitler or Bin Laden be that man, or should it be Dr. King or Ghandi? And will any of those I mention accept the authority of any of the others? We both know they will not. And if not them, then who? You or me? I’m thinking not.

    God has already given us the answer to a better America and world. You can find it in the Book. He defines himself quite clearly… “I Am who I Am.” “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come.” With Him, the Almighty, it seems to me, is where the answer lies.

    Now on to your other comments.

    I. Re: our democracy… we don’t have a democracy, never did. We had a democratic republic, which is not the same thing, and which is morphing all too quickly toward socialism.

    2 Re: all the bad stuff… countered by all the good stuff such as the most charitable nation in the world, our achievements and discoveries in science and medicine that we share with the world and that have benefited all mankind from the light bulb to the transistor to polio vaccine to aids research; from the telephone to the computer; from the car to the rover; from our constant evolution to become what we professed to be at the outset in 1776–a war we are still fighting amongst ourselves filled with battles we continue to win.

    Re: Blacks not being able to catch a break… excepting of course our black CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, our black lawyers, our black doctors, our black Pulitzer Prize winners, our black hall of fame athletes, our black Oscar winners, our black educators, our black scientists, our black Secretary of States , our black Chief Justices, our black Secretary of Defense, our black Generals and Admirals, our black musicians, our black inventors, our black best selling authors, our black astronauts, our black president etc. etc. etc.

    Re: all the other societal problems plaguing America ALL of which are symptoms of a people who have turned their backs on spirituality…….. hmmmmm what could possibly be the answer?

    Perhaps only two rules really make any difference at all, for with them all other conflicts cannot exist. 1. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” And “Do to others as you would have them do to you”.

    Question answered; case solved.

  3. Molly says:

    You make some interesting counter-points, Bob. Bill, I don’t agree with your take on our history. I don’t think the answer is necessarily a faith-based solution, but rather an emphasis on teaching morals, ethics, history and CIVIC DUTY. Much less attention needs to be given to entertainment and high-tech games and more to human interaction. If people were more informed, they would be less likely to be misled by oligarchs and corporate interests.

  4. Deaf Geezer says:

    What a shotgun blast here, Billy Lee! Among his great points, Bob indicates that because my world is not faith based, I have no morals, no ethics, no justice. Hmmm. Molly’s perspective falls more in line with my thinking. The fact that we can each express freely these differences, means to me that, even with is faults, America is still the best place to live!

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