America Could Be Great, But You'll Be Dead By Then

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<p>Celebrating A Multicultual America</p>

Celebrating A Multicultual America

I was watching clips from recent episodes of "The View" this morning where the ladies were discussing the death of Fidel Castro. Some white woman with a piercing, shrill voice, who's name I don't know was going on and on about how Castro was a "monster" and everyone who lives in Cuba was trying to get away from his brutal dictatorship and so on and so forth. Whoopi Goldberg (just to be clear, a highly problematic fave at this point) as well as Joy Behar countered with some facts about Cuba's 100% literacy rates, free education, free healthcare and advances in medicine that conflict with the narrative that everything Castro ever did was wrong and bad for the Cuban people. Obviously said shrill white woman was unable to wrap her mind around the idea that a political figurehead/dictator could simultaneously be doing bad and good things for a country. I believe later in this same episode, on the subject of flag burning, shrill white woman used the ad nauseam conservative adage of "if you hate America so much, why don't you just leave?" All this oversimplification of obviously complex and multilayered concepts and situations got me thinking about the general historical mythos of America and how it relates to our current political reality.

America (the United States, that is) as an idea, as a mythology, has always been predicated on the notion that America is "good" and things that are anti-American (what is and isn't has obviously changed many times throughout each historical epoch of our nation) are "bad." This is a incredibly useful concept in it's simplicity, being that it allows those in power, the government, the media, etc., to paint with broad strokes rarely rooted strictly in facts when creating and influencing popular cultural discourses that support classic American ideology. America is a "land of freedom," for example. The fact that this country was home to one of the most notorious anti-freedom periods of human history is conveniently ignored in this narrative. Many dictators and other world leaders who broke with western capitalism (the cornerstone upon which American ideology was built), Mao, Stalin, Castro and others, are evil mass murderers and monsters. Without discounting the very factual truth that these men were all responsible for the deaths of thousands, hundreds of thousands, even millions of people, to paint any historical figure as simply as "good" or "bad/evil" feels rather reductive. Just to be clear, I wouldn't argue that any of these men, or someone like Hitler, for example, deserves some kind of break or to be excused from the awful things that they did, but I think context is extremely important when viewing most any situation, even if only to illuminate the why and how, not as justification. Much study has been done into Hitler the person as well as how he came to power, not to excuse any of his murderous actions, but to understand the context in which his actions came to pass. To bring it back to my original point, to lump Castro in with the great "evil monsters" of history I think misses a lot of opportunity for deeper analysis.

This, however, is another typical foundation of American ideology. There is no deeper analysis, only surface level concepts and ideas. Millions of Americans look back at president Reagan as a hero for worship despite the fact that his inaction during the early days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic saw him preside over the deaths of hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Americans. Obama is about to leave office with incredibly high approval ratings, yet his administration's actions are responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent men, women and children in the Middle East, and he has deported, thereby breaking up countless families, more immigrants than any president in American history. Classic American ideology doesn't leave room for critical or contextual analysis of much of anything really. It's all about mantras, sound bites, simple narratives that are easy to comprehend and digest, because were we to take a closer look we might discover some of the ugly realities lying underneath what are essentially bold faced lies we tell ourselves about America the country, and American the identity.

To delve even deeper, this vital need to maintain simplistic ideology has been woven into the fabric of America's most basic educational structures since our nation's inception. Without going into too much detail, public school as a concept served a very simple function in it's early days; one was to make more citizens literate, and the other was to teach them behaviors and ideas that would contribute to them becoming "good, productive" members of society. The goal of American public education has never been to create a society full of highly educated, analytical, incredibly competent individuals. As we know the majority of Americans still do not seek out, or are unable to afford, higher education, and this isn't necessarily accidental or just by chance. Over the last thirty or forty years we've seen federal and local government spending on public education decrease or disappear, especially in poorer communities and communities of color. It's estimated that 6% or less of our total federal budget goes toward education. Is it any wonder that we're currently debating as to how much fake news and deliberate misinformation disseminated via the internet might be to blame for the outcome of our last election cycle? What we've seen come to fruition in 2016 is the culmination of several decades of the defunding of a public education system that really wasn't intended to teach it's citizens much more than simple reading, writing and arithmetic skills in the first place. How is the average middle class American citizen, let alone the working class and poor who have even less access to educational opportunities, going to be able to make complex analysis of what information can be trusted and which sources of information are even reliable in the first place? I'm not a conspiracy theorist, but don't be so naive to think that this concept isn't something many American elites, whether they be corporate or governmental, are unaware of. After all, many of them have had access to higher education and have been taught critical analysis and higher reasoning skills. Whether nefarious in nature or not, the American elite simply understand on a basic level the efficiency of controlling a population through maintaining a certain mass level of intellectual ignorance. Modern capitalism itself is based on this idea, as anyone who has read Marx and Engels can attest; ironically, texts that most students would never encounter before entering higher education.

In order for America to become a "great" nation, which arguably it never really was for swaths of those who have lived, worked and died here over the centuries, our citizens must have basic needs met and basic access to certain necessities. Healthcare and education are fundamental to the success of a society as a whole. There are many first world nations that already practice this, and have seen their populations flourish in different ways. Countries where they invest more into schools than they do into prisons, where medical care doesn't translate into a life sentence of poverty and debt. Countries where they've essentially eliminated homelessness and have focused on harm reduction and care for drug addiction instead of mass incarceration. Countries that have demilitarized their police forces which instead focus on actually helping communities instead of punishing them. I won't point to one nation or another as a model for America to follow. There are particular specifics to our own population and a history of relationships between our different racial, cultural, religious, gender, sexual, and social identities that must be addressed as part of a strategic plan for our prosperous future. Investment in preserving our environment and reducing the destruction of finite natural resources must be a primary element of our strategy as well, being that no one, regardless of their social standing will be able to survive on an inhospitable planet.

However, here we are at the end of 2016 and we have just elected a president who seems poised to do none of those things listed above. Truth be told American politics has favored corporate interests over those of it's citizens for decades now, on both the Left and the Right, and corporations born of the classic American capitalist model will never put people over profits, at least not until something or someone forces their hand. Most likely under the administration of the next four to eight years we will not see any improvements to or expansion of public education, nor will we see any sort of universalized healthcare for every citizen come to fruition. Most likely we not see any push to further regulate corporations that are exploiting and destroying the environment, or our country lead any sort of movement to push other nations to do the same. We will likely not see any legislation to combat income inequality, or to create jobs in new, progressive, environmentally safe industries. We will likely see attempts to rollback certain civil and human rights legislation that will further disenfranchise millions of Americans. Most likely we see the continued disintegration of the American mythos while the uninformed and uneducated, more and more of them created every day, rally to defend an ideology they don't have enough critical thinking skills to understand is a fallacy. The generations living today will most likely never see the universally prosperous, bountiful, harmonious and free America that some claim once existed, and others know never has.

It will take decades of coalition building, grassroots organization and civil unrest to bring us to the pinnacle of what this country could be. It will take generations being born, living their lives fighting against injustice and demanding we progress forward as a society for basic human rights for all and the preservation of our planet, passing this education on to their children, and dying before they see the fruit of their labors blossom. It will take years upon years of working to install progressive minded individuals within our existing governmental structures who will stand up against unchecked and unregulated corporate interests who only care about their bottom line. It may even require the further fracturing of our already divided society in some ways for certain communities to build movements together and amass numbers that rival the forces united against them. Ironically, in so many ways, it may even come down to the same old oversimplification of what we as Americans believe is "good" and what we believe is "bad," however with a shifted narrative that leans toward support of basic human necessities and a world still undamaged enough to support our lives as good and anything that threatens that as bad. As hard to imagine in this current social and political climate, I still believe that it is not an impossibility. I believe that people can learn to value what's most important, and many already inherently understand what that is deep down underneath the clutter of our modern American psyche. I believe that America can be great and I truly hope with every fiber of my being that someday it will be. I just know that I won't be around to see it.