America Can Do Better

Samuel Ganten, Editor

From a young age, we are indoctrinated to believe in the American Dream –the idea that the United States, as the place where one can make anything of oneseful and make something out of nothing, is the greatest country in this world.

This is not true.

America has clear room for growth and faces criticism and scorn in today’s world because of republican institutions. The Electoral College has proven that the United States is not a true democracy and that one does not need the support of the majority to assume power. This has happened 5 times too many in our history, most recently with the election of President Trump.

Tangentially, once people are actually elected to government, they don’t seem to actually govern that much., a political watchdog site, found that the 93rd Congress enacted 772 pieces of legislation while the current 115th Congress has enacted only 123 bills so far. Instead of addressing challenges such as entitlement reform or the conflicts in the Middle East, they struggle to avoid an imminent government shut down by passing temporary budgets.

One might say that these mechanisms used to govern were designed by the founding fathers to prevent the manifestation of tyranny. But in effect, they are now supporting the tyranny of the minority while not preventing the government from curtailing the liberties of the majority. The founders of this nation were not infallible.  Consider slavery, voting rights, and female equality –we cannot allow ourselves to be bound by tradition when tradition has so often failed us.

Every country is defined by its governmental structure and by the laws that are enacted by that government. Because of our government’s failure to achieve long-term policy goals, the idea of the American dream is tarnished by our ineffectiveness in the face of adversity.

Beyond our political institutions, our social problems are compounding at an astonishing rate. Dissatisfaction with the government has reached a new high, with Newsweek finding that Congress’ approval rating is 16% while FiveThirtyEight found President Trump’s approval rating is 40%.

People have lost faith in the government, and social tensions are rising as seen with Antifa, BlackLivesMatter, and Unite the Right protests. Protests and rallies disrupt political discourse and occasionally resort to violence, as seen in the Charlottesville and Berkeley riots.

Some might say that these are blips on the radar and overall, the United States has become a safer place.

Again, this is not true.

If anything, the policing efforts have masked the underlying issues rather than solved them. The 1994 crime bill, the War on Drugs, and a host of local initiatives have decimated minority communities and created a culture of perpetual imprisonment.

The only people that see prosperity today are suburbanites who have access to the best education, jobs, social support systems, and political representation. Increasing concentration of wealth in this area poses a threat to social mobility and to people’s faith in democratic institutions. Because only one section of the population reaps the rewards from participation in the system, the rest of society realizes that the odds are stacked against them and that subversion of the social contract is more pragmatic.

The American Dream is a fallacy.  It is meant to apply to all citizens, not just a privileged elite like in the feudal societies of the past. We created a republic to escape the class-based divisions, but we have become worse than the societies from which we separated.

The continuous re-emergence of these issues suggests the economic and political institutions of the nation cannot solve critical questions as other nations have. Whether one looks at life-expectancy, happiness, HDI, freedom, or any other measure, the United States lags behind other western democracies.

I think that many would define the American dream as that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. While the United States has all too often failed to live up to this ideal, I believe that it is possible to reach this goal if we reform the system. Bad politicians may come and go, but the system that promotes their values lasts forever.

Campolindo students may like to pretend that because we live in a wealthy, isolated bubble that these issues don’t apply to us. In reality, this attitude only highlights that this country’s greatest flaws come as a result of inaction and apathy. But change is an assurance against disaster.

If the system breaks down, then no one stands to benefit. When the government is unable to build new roads or pass new laws, economic stagnation will prove to be a greater threat to our privilege than political marginalization ever will.

But it is our wealth, our influence, and our potential that provides hope for changing our corrupt status quo. And we, as citizens, have an obligation to try.