The other day I was talking to a dear friend of mine who had just returned from a business trip to China.
"Coming back to America felt like returning to a Third World country," he said.
I was momentarily stunned, because I'd had the exact same thought when returning from Germany a few months ago. In fact, I apologized to a few German women in the "bathroom" of Newark airport after we had gotten off the plane. America is certainly not putting her best foot forward in that airport.
China and Germany are at much different phases in their development, so you can't just blame it on all the new growth in China. China is one of the oldest civilizations in the world, and it's now investing in infrastructure that takes it leaps and bounds ahead of the U.S. While Germany, also older than the U.S., shows a care of its basic human and cultural services that feels ahead of us.
Then I thought about all those lists that we seem to be falling downward in:
• Life expectancy: According to the CIA, we are number 50 in the world in terms of life expectancy! Germany is number 27, and China is 95. But Hong Kong is number 8. And we are behind Bosnia and Herzegovina.
• Infant mortality: We are number 47--behind CUBA!!!!
• Education: We spend as much on education, as a percentage of our GDP, as ETHIOPIA!
We are a rare experiment in freedom. But will our freedom to bicker and argue and let extremists dominate the public discourse lead us down a dark path of repression and the destruction of what made us great to begin with--our care for each other and willingness to sacrifice for the greater good?
While extreme conservatives hog the media spotlight with their charismatic, fear-based ignorance, we are falling behind, America! We have horrible health care, a huge deficit that even China doesn't want to fund, filled with "entitlements" that are mostly consumed by the energy and chemical companies that make us sick and benefit the most when our troops head off to war! Our patriotism has blinded us to the truth.
I recently heard one politician in Washington (one of the better ones, actually) call the coal industry the "cold dark hand of death," controlling our investment in future clean and renewable energy. It was off the record, so I can't name names. But with the deficit that faces us now, we need to be armed with facts and responsibility, not emotional ideologies. Because the truth is, if you've ever left this country and returned, you see from the outside looking in that we aren't as great as we think we are, and definitely not as great as we used to be. We may not be a Third World country yet, but that seems to be the road we are heading down.
For more from Maria Rodale, go to www.mariasfarmcountrykitchen.com.