Over a week ago, the President had the opportunity to be painfully and blatantly honest with his fellow Americans about the actual current state of our union.
He failed to be candid, he failed to be bold, he failed to be blunt and so begins another year of coddling the pervasive American illness of refusing to accept reality.
For about an hour before the speech, I had convinced myself that there was a remote possibility the President would stun the country, summoning the guts and courage of Lincoln to pronounce the American union divided or broken. He chose to take another tack and instead told us this:
Tonight this chamber speaks with one voice to the people we represent: It is you, our citizens, who make the state of our union strong.
I don't think there is a single person on either side of the political divide (or any of the countless other divides we suffer) who actually believes in the core of their being that the union, the coalition of all American people, is in fact, strong. And by refusing to say it out loud in the national forum designed for the magnitude of such revelations, we're forced to watch things get worse yet again -- or at best remain stagnant.
In the commentary following the speech, political broadcaster Chris Matthews said, without flinching and without sarcasm, "[The President] inspired the half of the country which was available to inspire." I couldn't figure out if this was meant to be praise, or a sad truth leaking out in a pundits' discussion, which was otherwise useless. Meanwhile the Republican responses (in their parade of strange forms) combined to equal nothing more than gamesmanship from their world, where winning an argument at any cost serves to cloak the severe damage the arguing itself does to the fabric of society.
With 21st century technologies at our disposal, we should live in the most educated, fact-based society in history. Instead we've let monetary greed and selfish special interests saturate our collective consciousness with such a wide array of blatant untruths that I wouldn't even know where to begin listing them all. And these dissociative fictions are in no way benign. 50 years from now, there is no doubt that historians won't have a single kind word for those denying corruption, denying climate change, denying income inequality and denying reality.
Where is there a decent outlet in America where one can educate themselves on current facts and impending dangers? We used to call those organizations the news.
We've allowed our current for-profit media titans to carve up the U.S. into opposite sides of a coin, meanwhile pocketing the coin. Combine the problem of systemic misinformation perpetuated by corporate greed with a modern world ranking of 17th in education, and we have a serious, serious problem.
So are we doomed?
I believe America can get better. I believe America can fix itself, can "work together," can "summon what is best in us," and can be "strong," -- but NOT without accepting the truth! Accepting fact! Accepting rationality! Accepting that the United States of America might be the most divided it has been since the Civil War, and the enemy is inside the house.
It is the over-spoken, but undeniably true, first tenant of self-improvement:
Admit you have a problem!
For whatever reason the President wasn't capable of taking that step, and instead pandered to the status quos with a speech destined to be forgotten. It took Representative Michael Grimm a fraction of a news cycle to blot out any positive emotions the President was trying to engender by simply threatening to throw a journalist off a balcony. And it took Congress until the following morning to resume business as usual.
No politician in this country (from either party, at any time) should be allowed to utter the words "greatest nation on Earth," without someone insisting that they accurately explain that assertion! For a country quick to tout itself as the greatest there is, we have a vast swath of societal realities that are far from great.
The United States of America:
- 99th in Peacefulness
- 89th in Depth of Global Connectedness
- 49th in Life Expectancy
- 41st in Income Inequality (95 nations beat us on that one)
- 40th in Maternal Death Risk (tied with Belarus)
- 35th in Math Scores
- 28th in Income Taxes
- 26th in Employment Growth
- 24th in Literacy
- 22nd in Gender Equality
- 22nd in Freedom from Corruption
- 19th in Perceived Honesty
- 17th in Overall Education
- 11th in Minimum Wage
- 10th in Economic Freedom
- 4th in Employees Faking Illnesses
- 3rd in Liking Itself
- 2nd in Child Poverty (among developed nations)
- 2nd in Carbon Emissions
- 2nd in Extinct Birds
- 1st in Anxiety Disorders
- 1st in Breast Augmentation
- 1st in Consumption of Oil
- 1st in Cocaine Use
- 1st in Death by Violence (of the modernized nations)
- 1st in Placing Citizens in Prisons
- 1st in Health Care Spending
- 1st in Mood Disorders
- 1st in Super Mega-Rich Individuals
- 1st in Obesity
- 1st in Military Spending
Sadly, it makes me wonder why people aren't fleeing to Canada for a chance at a better life (they best us in all above mentioned metrics except employees faking illness for which we are tied -- and they have fewer mega-rich).
Nothing is going to get better until we man-up and woman-up, admitting the truths of our union, having a good cry over them and proceeding to radically change the fundamentals inside the United States (break out Article V of the Constitution and get serious about the future). It takes the ultimate in leadership and pure force of will, the likes of which we haven't seen in a very long time.
Cartoon by Jim Pagano