Nine days ago, New York Times columnist Charles Blow wrote a short passionate column alongside statistics showing the United States had sunk to the bottom of developed countries in a wide range of measures signifying national health and social justice.
We are slowly — and painfully — being forced to realize that we are no longer the America of our imaginations. …
We sold ourselves a pipe dream that everyone could get rich and no one would get hurt — a pipe dream that exploded like a pipe bomb when the already-rich grabbed for all the gold.
The data he put forward, from a report by the Bertelsmann Stiftung foundation of Germany, was less eloquent but more damning. It showed, for example, that the U.S. ranked fifth from the bottom of 31 developed nations — from Iceland to Japan — on the social justice spectrum. Only Greece, Chile, Mexico and Turkey ranked lower. In measure after measure — overall poverty rate, childhood poverty rate, preprimary education, income inequality — the United States ranked in the lower third or worse, coming in below countries from the affluent Switzerland to the ex-Soviet bloc Slovakia.
But if the data startled, the silence that has followed the release of this report and many others in recent days has startled more. No one seems to much care — not the president, not the Congress, not elected leaders at the state level.
It is rare to hear any of them even go through the motions of expressing shock at news that has showed, among other things, that the rich are rapidly getting richer while the rest of America slides, or that the overall median income dropped more than 10 percent in the last four years. Nor have the news media often followed these dire reports by digging deeper to measure in human terms the struggle these statistics surely represent.
No. Instead the news media spend large chunks of their domestic resources chasing after the truly odd group running for president in the Republican Party primaries or other official stories when the real news in America is playing out in food pantries and family households cutting and cutting some more.
As a child growing up in the Depression in Iowa, my wife’s mother recalls her parents feeding the hobos who would line up at a stone wall alongside their home. Her parents were dyed-in-the-wool Republicans.
It’s hard to imagine similar acts of kindness from today’s Republicans, who seem convinced any Americans suffering should be blamed for their own failings. And I can’t say the Democrats I know are much more deeply engaged other than to cluck about how bad things have gotten (I have to include myself here).
It’s as if this country had stopped dead in its tracks simply because our Congress clearly has.
Are we as a nation paralyzed or simply mesmerized by our own mediocrity? Are we deluded by the rhetoric of American exceptionalism and the illusion that we can all still raise ourselves by our bootstraps if we’d only try harder or are we becoming numbed as what columnist Nicholas Kristof calls crony capitalism robs the rest of us blind to protect the powerful?
Writes columnist James Carroll in The Boston Globe, today “we struggle to confront how deep our troubles are — and act in ways that might actually address them.”
With our leaders consistently failing to do just the rest of us must find a way. Daunting, yes. But there’s little choice.