Are We Mom, the Flag, and Apple Pie – Or More Like the Guy at Applebee’s in the Wife Beater.

by Pitt Griffin on December 11, 2014 · 0 comments

in Economics, Education, Environment

“America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.” ― Alexis de Tocqueville.

We consider ourselves to be a decent people. Our heroes are stalwart sorts – who can be relied upon to the right thing. Cary Cooper, John Wayne and the Marlboro Man. We celebrate the under-dog and cheer every real life Horatio Alger success. We may compete to win but we don’t cheat. And we think everyone should get a ‘square deal’. We don’t like bullies and cheat. And heaven strike down the man who stoops to kick a dog.

We root our national identity in Christian benevolence and keep faith that hard work and pluck will realize the American dream. We are lying to ourselves.

Individually I think most Americans are decent. They know right from wrong. And would be loathe to cheat their neighbors. But that decency does not survive when we group together to pursue our aims. What do I mean? I’m talking about the charitable man who fresh from a church-filled Sunday, will swagger into his bank on Monday, girding his loins, as he prepares to impoverish the elderly, with some little understood financial shenanigan.

Even individually we can be seduced to violence. Psychological tests of ‘regular’ folk show that many are willing to inflict great pain on invisible victims – as long as they are assured, by the authority figure in the room, that what they are doing is all right.

Police apologists have exonerated the killers of Michael Brown and Eric Garner by playing up the victims’ criminality and size. OK, let’s take that to its logical conclusion. These defenders of the uniformed are saying that shoplifting and selling untaxed cigarettes are capital offenses. Especially if done by a large man.

They have also in effect repealed the fifth amendment and its due process mandate.

Confrontations between the police and civilians are not supposed to be gladiatorial contests – with victory going to the strong, or better armed. There is no loss of manhood in a temporary withdrawal. The victory is in a righteous ending. In a civilized country the police are trained to use minimum violence. Jackbooted thuggery is the symptom of a different kind of regime.

The CIA torture report has revealed us a people willing to vest on our enemies depredations we thought only existed in despicable tyrannies. And that’s not the worst of it. As badly as we treated the enemy our own citizens are rough-handled.

We send more of people to prison – for longer – than any other nation. We (with Japan) are the only industrial country that has the death penalty. We alone have no national plan to provide our citizens with basic health coverage. Our schools aren’t number one – they aren’t in fact even above average.

University education has become the province of the wealthy, while the less well off, lucky enough to claw their way through, are saddled with debts larded with interest rates that banks will never pay.

And let’s not delude ourselves with the “American Dream”. No longer can Americans – by dint of hard work, nerve and native smarts – ascend to the pinnacle as easily as they used to. Embarrassingly, that feat is more easily accomplished in hidebound, socialist Europe.

The wealthy do well in America. But the regular guy has seen his labor rights stripped away. No longer can the blue collar worker enjoy a good union wage and benefits negotiated by his representatives. Our minimum wage is so low that the taxpayer subsidizes the Walmart shareholder.

America is a dramatic landscape celebrated in song and the imagination. But commercial interests clamor to rip the beauty away. And industrial America pleads to pollute the rest.

And pity the immigrant yearning to be free today. We don’t even welcome the well-educated. And this nation of foreigners is positively xenophobic about the poor strivers who would emulate our grandparents.

All may not be lost. The world looked a pretty grim place in 1929. But we survive to enjoy the “American Century” in large part because every American had a genuine shot. The deck wasn’t stacked against the little guy. And the wealthy didn’t hog all the money.


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