“There is something wrong in America”
“America is sick”
“There’s a darkness, a negativity in America”
Many people have been sharing thoughts like these with me. All of these sentiments have echoed something I’ve felt inside of me from the moment I was old enough to be aware of this feeling. And now, more than ever, I am drawn to this awareness. I’m drawn to reflect on just what is wrong with America. Because something is deeply wrong.
As an outsider, and as an American, I’ve always wondered what exactly is wrong with this country of so much promise and hope. Is it simply a young nation in growing pains? Or is there something deeper, more structural at work that creates this foreboding shadow in my mind when I think of the United States?
I am reminded of growing up and reading our founding documents. I went to school on a US military base in Germany. My father is American. My mother is German. By birth, I am both, so I’ve always had the perspective of comparing the two. And I’ve always first learned about my country before ever living there.
“A government for the people, by the people.” This phrase has always stuck with me. It’s what drew me to international affairs and law. I didn’t live in the US until I was 18, when I came for university. 8 years later, after earning an undergraduate and law degree and working as a teacher in the capital of the South, I was so disappointed with the reality of America I vowed never to live there again.
What I’ve come to realise about my decision is it is based on exactly what makes America so sick at heart.
America is a lie.
Now, some of you may think I’m just a cynical lawyer jaded by the monstrous machine that is legal education. Fair point. I’ve had my inner battles in the legal profession and in legal education, I will admit. But I’ve come out of all that with a crisp, fresh understanding of what drives us as people, and how that relates to our governance.
“A government for the people, by the people” is simply not true. It was not true when the Founding Fathers established our nation, and it is even more untrue today. Our government was not set up for the people. Our government does not benefit the people. Our government does not represent the people. Our government was set up for those in power at the time – the wealthy. Our government primarily benefits the wealthy. Our government represents the wealthy.
This is at the heart of our sickness as a nation – our government is simply not there for us. It is not designed, and it does not run, for the benefit of the average American. We feel more alone than ever in this day and age. We feel more unsupported than ever. So many of us do not feel heard, do not feel cared for. So many of us struggle every day just to get by, just to make ends meet. So many of us feel cheated, nickeled and dimed, and run over. We feel unsupported by our governments, by our employers, by our organisations. At any moment many of us could be kicked out of our jobs and without a means to make a living – without a means to survive. And we watch as our politicians take huge paychecks and donations and cater to special interest groups – huge industries that have more money and resources than we can imagine. We are told that we can have all of it too, if we just work harder, if we just pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and fulfill the American dream.
I call bullshit.
I call bullshit for the millions of people living in poverty everyday, those that don’t even have boots on their feet because they were born into a cycle of poverty.
I call bullshit for the millions of people who go out to vote, only to have their choice of candidate dictated to them by two parties who dominate the political landscape and make our decisions for us.
I call bullshit for the millions of people who have been tortured, enslaved, imprisoned, disenfranchised, and killed by the US government, at home and abroad.
I call bullshit.
What has this lie of a landscape created? What environment do we live in now in America, where so many of us feel like we cannot escape the burden of our own lives? That we must guzzle down fast food and propaganda media, pop pills and spend dollars just to find an escape from the mundane, stagnated lives we have found ourselves in?
This lie of a landscape has created an environment of division, of every person for themselves mentality where we feel the need to secure our own at the expense of the other. Where we feel the need to ally ourselves with people who think and look like ourselves so we can get ahead and gain at the expense of others. Where we feel the need to sell products to people at the expense of people’s’ health, means, and lives, just to put more money in our pockets. Where, because our founding documents are full of lies, we feel it is ok to have our leaders and politicians lie to us every day. Where we feel it is okay to lie to ourselves and each other everyday.
And our politicians would tell us this is the greatest nation on Earth, while they hand us but two choices when we go out to vote. Our two party system, this is our only choice. We get to choose between two people, from a country of millions.
What a choice.
I call bullshit.
I’ve been to countries, and lived in countries, where the environment is one of openness, of inclusion, of safety, of harmony. Where the citizens feel empowered by their government to live their lives not in fear of what the next day will bring, but in the safety of knowing that the governments are there for them. That a doctor will not choose whether to save a life based on that patients’ insurance policy. That a teacher will not leave a student behind because of lack of funding. That an employer will not fire an employee to increase the bottom line.
These places exist, and yet we insist in America to keep doing things the way we’ve always been doing them. This is actually a legal principle built into the American governance system. In a world where change is the only constant, how can we continue like this and expect things to get better?
The reality is that American can get better. America can heal.
The key in those places, where there is a government for the people, by the people, is that the people of these places had the will to make their country whole. They had the will to stand up to take control of their lives and their government. They had the will to demand a better life. Granted, these places where not such a mixing pot of different cultures. But the people nonetheless rallied and came together behind a central, underlying principle they recognised would make all of their lives better: they had to take charge of their governments, and design and run them in such a way that was beneficial to their country as a whole. They had to embrace cooperation and work together for the benefit of everyone.
The question is, will America remain sick? Or will we find the will to heal, to take charge of our lives and create a country that benefits all of our people?