Divided States of America

Spiegel Online, November 5, 2012

Edited by Andy Ross

The reality of life in the United States so greatly contradicts its claim to be the greatest nation on earth that patriots must blush.

Hurricane Sandy showed up weaknesses. In New York City, the best walls of sandbags were were built not around power plants, hospitals or tunnel entrances, but around the Goldman Sachs skyscraper. Large parts of the city and millions of people along the coast could now be forced to survive for days or weeks without electricity, water, or heating. Backup generators didn't work and hospitals had to be evacuated. America is not what it was.

Aaron Sorken has written a new drama series, The Newsroom. The news anchor hero is asked to say why America is the greatest country in the world, but he cracks: "There's absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we're the greatest country in the world. We're 7th in literacy, 27th in math, 22nd in science, 49th in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, 3rd in median household income, #4 in labor force and #4 in exports. We lead the world in only three categories: Number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real, and defense spending, where we spend more than the next 26 countries combined."

Hatred of big government has reached a level in the United States that threatens its existence. Americans everywhere may vow allegiance to the flag, but when it's time to pay the bills all sense of community evaporates. Gone are the days when Franklin D. Roosevelt said a social welfare system would strengthen America. Gone are the days when Dwight D. Eisenhower launched bold programs to build a network of interstate highways. Gone are the days when Lyndon B. Johnson declared war on poverty. And gone is the spirit of John F. Kennedy's promise to send Americans to the moon within a decade.

The American dream is failing. It began to fail around the turn of the millennium, with the crash landing of the New Economy, and it imploded altogether in 2008, when Wall Street became the epicenter of a global financial meltdown. President Obama tried to unite the country, but the more he sought to accommodate the Republicans, the more extreme their positions and the more hysterical their criticism became, eliminating any prospect of compromise. Claims that Republican leaders agreed in January 2009 to block his policies are now well supported. Republicans have been determined to spoil everything, regardless of the public good. This is a systemic crisis.

The Tea Party has become the American Taliban. For them, Darwin's theory of evolution is the stuff of the devil. They view homosexuals as diseased and women as subordinate to men. They oppose contraception and are ready to kill to end abortion. American schools are like dropout factories in big cities, and American universities have become unaffordable for many Americans. States like California spend more money on prisons than universities.

America is a country filled with dead ends. High speed trains run only on a few routes in the United States, at average speeds much slower than European trains. Republican governors in states with good routes for the trains refused to accept government funds. They wanted to thwart socialist Obama and fight big government. Obama proposed several projects to improve the country's schools and promote equal opportunity for all children. But governors obstructed them.

Immigrants made America. They founded more than half of all Silicon Valley companies and filed one in four patent applications between 1995 and 2005. Almost half of all doctoral candidates in engineering and science do not speak English as their first language. But American students would rather work on Wall Street than in technology and engineering.

Obama's major economic stimulus package set aside $90 billion to promote renewable energy. The president's adversaries ridiculed it and cited it as an example of his failure. Obama's search for a green future was nothing but a money pit, scoffed the Republicans.

America is no longer the shining beacon on the hill. Its supremacy after the collapse of the Soviet Union is gone. Many developing countries now look to China instead of the Unites States as a role model. Unless a miracle occurs before December 31, 2012, the United States will take a fall. Going over the fiscal cliff would reduce the budget deficit by $607 billion. Austerity on this scale would cost the economy more than 5% of GDP. Even the eurozone countries have not gone that far. Beyond the fiscal cliff is an abyss.


AR Whew!